Stars explained: * A production of no real merit
with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not
enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real
life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A
good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely
achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a
great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major
flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic
which lifts theatre to another plane.
Waiting for Godot
Hall Green Little Theatre
(because of the difficult circumstances involved in staging this production stars have been omitted)
ANYONE who has a clue as to what Samuel Beckett’s landmark play is about is probably on much stronger medication than the rest of us are ever going to be prescribed.
It was originally written by Beckett in French, premiering in Paris in January 1953 when the curtain was brought down in the middle of one performance because a large displeased group of the audience stood up whistling and hooting derision at the stage.
Yet, despite its rather painful birth it is now regarded as one of the most important plays of the 20th century, perhaps the first example of the theatre of the absurd to come to the public’s notice, causing controversy once more when its English translation was premiered two years later directed by a 24-year-old Peter Hall.
Beckett was no help either in explaining his milestone play, telling everyone who asked that everything he knows about the characters is in the script, and the detail in the script hardly extends beyond the publisher’s imprint; there is no backstory, no description – in short no more information. Who Godot is, or whether he even exists, or indeed who any of the characters are will always remain a mystery.
The plot is, one hesitates to say, simple. Estragon and Vladimir are two strange characters who appear at a bench by a tree on a country road, staying until evening each day to wait for Godot . . . and that, in a nutshell, is it.
They pass the time talking about anything that comes into their head, their thoughts broken occasionally by a discussion as to whether they should hang themselves from the tree, if they had any rope that is.
Vladimir thinks Estragon should go first but he can’t, obviously, as that would leave Vladimir alone. But as they have no rope does it really matter?
Their day is broken by discussions about Estragon’s boots and feet, a regular topic, and the appearance of Pozzo, who is driving along Lucky, who he calls Pig, on the end of a long rope. Lucky carries a picnic basket, suitcase full of sand and a folding chair.
Then there is the boy, or is it his brother, who appears late each afternoon to announce Godot cannot make it today, but will definitely be here tomorrow.
Yet for something so seemingly simple, it is a complex play to stage, and a nightmare to learn. Logic flies out of the window with conversations and words bouncing around like peas on a drum.
As for the staging, director Andrew Cooley is left with a free hand by Beckett. The tree and bench are an essential, beyond that . . . the script leaves pretty much a blank canvas.
Valdimir and Estragon are often portrayed as tramps, here Cooley has his Vladimir, played by Tony O’Hagan, and Estragon, played by Paul Holtom, dressed in dinner suits which have seen better days, or more probably better decades.
While Estragon, who seems to have a foot obsession, wears, sometimes at any rate, a pair of unlaced black boots, spending much of the first act with one bare foot and much of the second with two. It also appears from the script that Vladimir is the heftier of the two. The pair bounce off each other nicely, happily spouting their serious nonsense like a bickering married couple.
And like everyone else, apart from the boy, or is it boys, who appears to be almost normal, the pair wear obligatory bowler hats which gives us a very funny swapping hats game with Lucky’s discarded bowler, which is very Laurel and Hardyesque.
Holtom puts in a quite remarkable performance under the circumstances. The original actor in the role became indisposed and Holtom only took on the role last Monday, managing to get through the performance glancing at a small, discrete script.
A few days’ hard rehearsal, of necessity from scratch with a new Estragon, disrupted the original rehearsal schedule considerably such that the final scenes became a rehearsed reading by the Godot waiting pair, which was a pity, but something which experience says will soon be remedied with a couple of performances under their belts.
It was a brave decision to continue after such a late setback and cast and director deserve a lot of credit for their show must go on spirit, and in truth there was much to commend in the performance.
There is plenty of humour in the script, laugh out loud moments, which are brought out well, and some quite ridiculous moments, such as Pozzo’s insistence on a throat spray before giving any long explanation to a question, or his contrived attempts to get someone to invite him to sit down, on his own chair, so that he hasn’t decided to stay of his own accord.
Then there is Vladimir’s waterworks problem, requiring him to rush to the toilet at regular intervals amid great amusement, or the sparse trio of leaves which appear on the bare tree between acts to be declared full leaf by Vladimir.
Tony O'Hagan as Vladimir in rehearsal with Roger Warren
as Pozzo putting the boot in on Lucky
Tony O'Hagan as Vladimir in rehearsal with Roger Warren as Pozzo putting the boot in on Lucky
Roger Warren is a delight as Pozzo, making him into a sort of evasive Arthur Daley character who can turn any question away from an answer and making him vaguely sinister in a strange sort of way.
If his first appearance is odd his second, in Act II is just bizarre. I won’t spoil the plotline but here we delve into philosophical discussions about time, and how meaningless it becomes, and time does seem to be a running theme, such as why two men would sit around on a bench waiting for someone they don’t know, have never met and know nothing about for reasons they don’t understand?
Kelvin Mcardle deserves praise in the difficult role of Lucky, a misnomer if ever there was one. He only has one speech, a long one, spouting endless nonsense, becoming louder and louder as he thinks out loud until he is wrestled to the ground and his bowler hat removed and thrown away – he cannot think without his hat. He spends much of the rest of the time clutching suitcase and picnic basket, staring unblinking and expressionless into the distance gently swaying backwards and forwards. If you think that’s easy, just try it.
Finally, we have the normal one – normal being relative in this play - the boy, or could it be his brother, played by Jack Heath. And as he doesn’t know which one he is, what chance do we have.
Waiting for Godot is an important play in the history and development of theatre, one which people tend to have heard of but not actually seen, it's that sort of play, fringe rather than manistream; but this is a chance to see a theatrical landmark in a studio setting, a chance to make your own mind up. And if you have any clue what it is about at the end - please let everyone know. To 19-11-16