Writer: Samuel Beckett
Director: Peter Reid
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Hmmm… lalalalala…. [drums fingers] … you’re probably waiting for the review to start. British people spend an awfully long time waiting for things; we queue patiently in the Post Office or at the bus stop,
endure months till the next holiday or wait quietly for late friends. So, Samuel Beckett’s best-known play Waiting for Godot should speak to some intrinsic part of our national character.
But in fact, the play is theatrical Marmite, either its absurdist observations on the emptiness of existence will fascinate you, or the highly stylised absence of plot will bore you to tears. Peter Reid’s touring production, newly arrived at the Arts Theatre, is somewhere between the two, with moments of deep insight into the human condition wrapped in a, sometimes laboured, slapstick shell.
Vladimir and Estragon sit patiently by a tree and a rock waiting for the titular Godot. As they wait and wait and wait, they play games, tell stories and chat to passers-by, hoping the time will go by quicker.
Apparently trapped in an infinite loop of repetition, when Godot fails to appear, their knowledge of the man they hope to meet becomes hazy, and their own recollection of the past falters.
Reid’s production, at almost 2.5 hours is as much an endurance test for the audience as it is for the cast, and Waiting for Godot has always felt primarily like an actor’s play. And you get that sense here; while some members of the audience respond enthusiastically to aspects of the humour and the more bizarre elements of the plot, the cast seem to be having the most fun.
In Act One, the lead pair are presented as an indistinguishable double act, where it’s virtually impossible to tell who is who, while most of the action focuses on the arrival of peculiar landowner
Pozzo (Paul Kealyn) and his slave Lucky (Paul Elliot). The tone here is quite varied and it’s difficult to tell whether Kealyn is overacting or there is a deliberate move to make Pozzo seem as though he has been parachuted in from Alice in Wonderland, with the philosophical elements of the play muted so slapstick takes precedence.
Act Two is considerably more engaging however, particularly as Nick Devlin’s Vladimir is given space to consider some of the bigger themes of Beckett’s writing and his engagement with ideas of life,
death and the nature of existence are some of the production’s best moments. The partnership with Patrick O’Donnell’s Estragon, a role he’s played since 2012, also feels more satisfactory in this second part with the Vaudeville nature of the double act, the occasional bickering and nuances of their relationship given more depth.
Reid’s production does relish the ponderous nature of the play and, while that fits with Beckett’s intentions, it can be a rather arduous experience for an audience. Along with Elliot’s excellent delivery
of Lucky’s monologue in Act One and the stylistically more consistent Act Two, this version of Waiting for Godot has some really engaging moments. This is probably a show for Beckett lovers, however, and doesn’t do quite enough to win over the dissenters, they’ll just have to keep waiting.
Runs until 23 September 2017 | Image: Contributed