It comes to something when the final and all-conquering insult in a slanging match between two characters in an epoch-defining play is “Critic!” Suitably chastened I will attempt to review the show despite the unrelenting, laser-like, disapproving gaze of its long-since deceased creator.
Waiting For Godot, the boards-breaking, convention-shattering, earth-moving drama first came to the Arts Theatre in 1955 (having originally premiered, in French, in Paris two years earlier) directed by a young Peter Hall who, when the script appeared on his desk, had the theatrical nous and artistic wherewithal to recognise a work of genius that had to be shared. It was controversial, then, and remains controversial to this day – several people didn’t return to the auditorium after the interval – but for the show to return to the Arts Theatre sixty-two years later has a kind of poetic symmetry of which writer Samuel Beckett would have heartily disapproved.
Critics – and audience – may waffle on about Waiting For Godot as philosophical polemic or metaphysical dialectic but, in fact, it’s just a play, simply a play, for people to enjoy, to be entertained by and to make of it what they will. This production by AC Theatre Productions, directed by Peter Reid, follows that blueprint so that we have great entertainment and a joyous delight in the exploration of language, in a show that is performed to near perfection.
The two vagrants, the “waiters” of the title, Vladimir and Estragon are a double act to die for. Flitting at will from funny and quick-witted to morose and maudlin, Nick Devlin and Patrick O’Donnell tinge their performances with an ever-present pathos that informs their every move, their every gesture, their every motivation. Their light-hearted banter, which makes us laugh, superficially hides their urgent probing of the meaning of existence, which
makes us think, which in turn underlines the hopelessness of their condition – which brings us near to tears. These two actors get it and they make sure the audience gets it with their clarity of vision without ever reverting to sledge-hammer tactics.
Talking of thinking, Paul Elliot as Lucky, the demonstrably un-lucky, mercilessly abused carrier-slave, has to deliver the longest un-punctuated speech in theatre – a kind of berserk stream of consciousness – which he does with extraordinary panache and real feeling making the non-sequiturial nonsense appear meaningful and relevant. And funny. That seems to be director Peter Reid’s watchword for his engaging production – find the humour and let it out – which he does to great success. Elliot, in what is quite a restricting role, displays a range of expressive physicality that is a wonder to behold and which, when he is on stage, constantly underscores that production-defining pathos.
Waiting For Godot at the Arts Theatre – Trailer 2017
Ringmaster of this extraordinary misfit-circus is Pozzo, the bombastic bamboozler, played with sublimely detailed precision by Paul Kealyn. His cosy nastiness is a paradigm for all that is wrong with the world in general and people in particular. We’ve all met him; we’ve all reacted with disgust and horror at his bullying, self-aggrandising, ego-centric values; and we’ve all put our heads down, moved on and hoped not to meet him again. Until we do.
His blindness in Act 2 only serves to introduce self-pity to his lack of empathy: and all these traits are carefully and painstakingly brought to our attention through this excellent portrayal by Kealyn. Pozzo is the dark side of the world and we feel that to the full.
I glean from the programme that Reid’s production started on its journey to the Arts, in one form or another, way back in 2005 – Devlin, for example, started off playing Lucky before moving (up, down or across – depending on your perspective) to the role of Vladimir. The show, therefore, feels well-honed without ever being over-slick or tired, having a vibrancy and meaning that speaks to its audience without condescension. I have seen Waiting For Godot performed many times and it’s a tribute to this show, and its superlative performers, that it still has the urgency and freshness that I discovered the first time I experienced it.
Review by Peter Yates
Didi and Gogo wait on a country road by a tree for a man named Godot. All they know is that when Godot arrives they will be saved. If he doesn’t arrive they have to come back tomorrow and wait again.
So begins and ends Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece. Arguably the greatest play of the 20th century. Didi and Gogo pass the time by playing games, arguing and questioning why they are waiting. Pozzo, a landowner arrives with his slave Lucky who he is bringing to the fair to sell. They pass the time. Pozzo and Lucky leave. A boy arrives and tells them Godot won’t come today but surely tomorrow. They wait.
Tuesday 5th – Saturday 23rd September