Well, it “passed the time”…
That was my final thought as the curtain fell on Waiting For Godot at the Arts Theatre and I believe it’s exactly what Samuel Beckett intended. Met with hecklers and outraged reviews, this tragicomedy was said to have changed the rules of theatre when it made its English language debut at the same theatre 62 years ago. Today, there were no hecklers and, so far, no outraged reviews.
It seems that the British have grown accustomed to the absurdist drama that won “Most Controversial Play” at the Evening Standard awards in 1955, but we perhaps understand it no more than we did back then.
Translated from French, Beckett’s play opens a window into the lives of two tramps Estragon (Patrick O’Donnell) and Vladimir (Nick Devlin), otherwise known as Gogo and Didi, as they too “pass the time” while they wait for the elusive Godot in a barren landscape populated by themselves, a rock and a spindly crucifix-like tree.
Under Peter Reid’s direction, there are distinguishable moments of insight into the human condition that reveal a deeper meaning behind Beckett’s random, incoherent and repetitive dialogue. And, what is the meaning to be found, I hear you ask? Well, in a play with no clear answers, from a writer who refused to expand upon his aims, each audience member is expected to find their own. For me, it seemed obvious that the pair’s attempt to distract themselves from the monotony of waiting for Godot, or God himself, was a comment on the way we live our lives. To “pass the time”, we fill our days with both the ridiculous and the boring in equal measure; surely choosing to see Waiting For Godot falls into both of these categories?
As in life, the bleak is undercut by humour and there is warmth to be found in each of Beckett’s characters. O’Donnell and Devlin are superb as Gogo and Didi, commanding the stage with their witty chit-chat, touching moments of affection and their continued, yet increasingly disillusioned, faith in the appearance of Godot. Despite the frequent rambling conversations expected of them, both actors managed to hold my attention; their injections of well-timed hilarity are a credit to both themselves and the director.
For two scenes Gogo and Didi are joined by Pozzo (Paul Kealyn) and his servant Lucky (Paul Elliot). Lucky’s physicality should be highlighted for its brilliance. A single step from Elliot seemed to hang heavy with sorrow, and he was at points painful to watch. With a noose around his neck, we see Lucky dance for Pozzo, watch him refuse to put down his heavy sand-filled bags and witness his stumbling attempts to push Pozzo’s stool closer to him, a task that Pozzo could complete himself with relative ease. The confused reactions of Gogo and Didi added to the horror of these moments and the torturous image of Lucky slowly pushing that stool across the stage won’t be one I’ll forget easily.
My main criticism of Reid’s production would be the staging. Although Waiting For Godot requires the most minimal of sets, it was obvious that the effort that had been put into the staging was lacklustre at best. The tree and the rock were unconvincing and the backdrop was similar to a PowerPoint presentation. Having said that, the lazy staging didn’t take away from the urgency with which the four actors performed.
Waiting For Godot brings to the forefront the questions we tend to avoid and everyone should be subject to Beckett’s play at least once in their life. AC Productions’ bizarrely thought-provoking revival paid perfect homage to the show that caused such uproar in the very same theatre over half a century before.
Waiting For Godot Tickets are available now