Waiting For Godot is a difficult play to comprehend. Written by the profound writer Samuel Beckett, it depicts two men at a side of a road waiting for a man called Godot. They can not go anywhere, for of course they are waiting for Godot. They ponder their existence, they question life and the daily struggles of the nothing of their lives. Essentially nothing happens in Waiting For Godot, yet the play is so rich with imagery, foolery and thought provoking comments that you need not dig deep to understand Becketts slightly absurd play.
This production has returned from its sell out run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket back in 2009, with a slight cast change. I wasn’t fortunate to get to catch it with the formidable duo of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart but we are blessed with McKellen returning to the play and joined by Roger Rees (let’s not forget the cast now boasts Matthew Kelly too).
Whilst the play states that the action takes place at the side of a row beneath a tree, the design by Stephen Brimson Lewis transports the action inside a derelict theatre with the tree bursting out of the floor boards. It is imaginatively designed and reflects in the absurd writing of Beckett whilst portraying a sense of age and decay that the characters themselves show.
Sean Mathias direction of the play is deeply enjoyable, playing upon the strengths of his actors to deliver an impeccable performance. Mathias picks upon McKellens foolery of comedic timing and delivery to keep a light hearted approach to the Beckett classic. This allows for Rees to be the more grounded character out of the two, yet their ability to play off each other and sending the audience in tight circles of repetition through the lines creates a surreal experience.
There is no doubting McKellens acting, he is back in full force and showing what a man of 70 can bring to the theatre. He is witty, hilariously funny and equally deeply emotional. We can’t help but to pity him as the character of Estragon, where he portrays a figure who appears to be slipping into dementia whilst clinging onto his comedic side. McKellen is the star for the performance, outshining his age and proving he deserves the critical acclaim over the years.
Whilst Waiting For Godot is an enjoyable night for any Beckett and theatre fan, there are flaws in this production which holds it back. Paul Pyant’s lighting design does nothing for the play and at times becomes a distraction, something any lighting designer should not be doing, – the text itself is often hard to follow without bad lighting.
Matthew Kelly is a bit of a sore thumb in this production. He lacks the raw connection that Rees and McKellen have in their character, their sense that all is not what it seems. Kelly has a rounded character that jars against the action, maybe it is a classic case of me not liking him as Pozzo, or just him as a person. Whatever the cause of my dislike it didn’t take away from the production, but more something to be considered. If anything Kelly is an interesting choice for Mathias to take in casting.
Waiting For Godot is a hard text, but when directed with the right cast the outcome can be astonishing. Whilst Mathias production didn’t leave me dumbfounded it certainly proved entertaining. Catch the performance if you want to get lost in a rambling text of waiting for an elusive character called Godot. (Nice to see that Mathias doesn’t make out of the character of Godot as a reglious ‘godlike’ character as I’ve often seen him as).
Waiting For Godot is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 3rd April 2010. Tickets available through the official website.