Much ado about . . . nothing much

Waiting . . . Jeffery Kissoon (left) as  Vladimir waits patiently with Patrick Robinson's Estragon for the mysterious Godot, as the characters have done since 1955.

Waiting for Godot

Birmingham Rep

The Old Rep, Station Street

****

ANYONE who repeats the old line that `nothing happens twice' in Waiting For Godot should try and tell Jeffery Kissoon that.

Kissoon who plays Vladimir was visibly dripping with sweat after one of the more intense exchanges of the play. Seeing him sweat and hearing the soft Caribbean accents in this all Black production by the Talawa Theatre Company and West Yorkshire Playhouse, had me feeling hot rather than exposed to the chilling wind that could often be heard.

Samuel Beckett's Godot is often lauded as the `greatest play of the 20th Century‘. How it has become elevated to that level seems partly due to the fact it is something of an enigma.

It's like Beckett started off with a notion of two characters and simply let them develop on the page without any precognitive reason for doing so. In his lifetime he never fully explained it to anyone so possibly no explanation is to be had.

Add to this, the fact that his estate controversially controls the rights to perform it only as Beckett intended, the legal battles preventing women from performing it, a performance ban for the Netherlands and winning The Most Controversial Play of the Year in 1955, an accolade never awarded again, and you can see that it is a play with a lot of real historical baggage.  

So for those who missed all that and don't know, it's about two men who wait for the arrival of he who never comes 'Godot'.

While waiting they converse on life and religion. They sleep, laugh, dance, sing, joke, talk, tease, fight and theorise.  That's a lot of action for a couple of evenings, the play's time span, and one where even the director Ian Brown still oddly maintains that 'nothing happens'.

Jeffery Kissoon (left) and Patrick Robinson  as Vladimir and Estragon who are still waiting patiently for Godot

I think Beckett would have liked this version of his play. Here is a line from a Grenada Tourist web site on Caribbean Time:  `Someone might tell you they are going to be there at 2 and arrive at 4. However they may have enthusiastically agreed out of politeness, but had no intention of coming at all.' That's certainly applicable to Mr Godot. Maybe he was a plumber?

There is also a sub theme of slavery and freedom another relevant issue to a West Indies setting. However whilst these are new possibilities for the plays interpretation they do not serve to offer any further understanding of it. It's all down to you find that.

What makes this production so valuable is its powerfully experienced cast, who flip from endearment to bewilderment back to doddery `old gits' with amusement and grace.   Patrick Robinson as Estragon practically delivered his entire character with a rapid flash of his eyes which from four rows back were like searchlights. Jeffrey Kissoon's Vladimir had a slight Indian flavour and stance and the pairing created a very real and affectionate friendship.

Cornell S. John plays Pozzo, who appears leading his slave Lucky to market. The fact that a black actor is delivering a perfect parody of a Monocled landed gent reminded me that some 3,000 free blacks were documented as owning slaves in the New Orleans area alone during the mid 1800's. It's not a point that possibly Beckett was directly making but one that arrived in this production.

Guy Burgess as Lucky, I will say kindly, appeared or was made to look, the lightest skinned black actor I have seen, so much so I was checking at the interval to see if he had been replaced. Burgess however split the atmosphere with a dynamic torrent of hysterical verbal ` thinking,' during an incredibly difficult section of the play, that when finished drew instant audience applause.

Godot is not a play that you can easily like. It's all too theoretical to be real so it keeps its distance. It is a play though that even Beckett said should not be produced in any other form but on the stage. One about two small men waiting in that big space. In this excellent production it's worth joining them, so just what  - or who - are you waiting for? To 17-03-12

Jeff Grant   

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