Writer: Samuel Beckett
Director: Charlotte Gwinner
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
To a large extent, Samuel Beckett tells the director and designer what to do in Waiting for Godot. The minimal set is specified (a road, a tree), many pauses are indicated in the script, as are precise actions, and there are strong hints as to costume: bowler hats are indispensable and Pozzo’s garb must fit with his whip and the lead on which he keeps his servant/slave.
Where there is room for manoeuvre, is in the pace and tone of the production. Godot has been famously described, with much wit and some accuracy, as the play where nothing happens – twice. This, plus the famous pauses, leads so often to the concept that this is a slow play. This is unhelpful in the extreme: rapid-fire exchanges explode into life, then subside into a silence. It is a fast-paced play with potent silences.
Charlotte Gwinner realises this in her production for Sheffield Crucible. In truth, she might make a little more of the pauses and changes of tempo, but she is totally successful in putting to bed the notion that in Godot two tramps spend their time as inert victims of Fate. Maybe the last quarter hour is a face to face meeting, beautifully written, with the brevity and pointlessness of life, but overall, Godot is described as a tragicomedy and you reduce the comedy at your peril.
The other key decision is how to match the play with the Crucible’s big open stage. Stage directions in the text clearly relate to a proscenium arch stage and there have been many fine productions in intimate acting spaces. Designer Simon Daw sensibly does not over-complicate things, unlike a famous all-star production at the National Theatre where the whole production was skewed by an elaborate design. The tree looks good – exposing the roots is part of the overall surrealist look – and an unwelcoming slab of rock heightens the bleakness while providing a hiding place for all those goings-on that Beckett locates in the wings. Of the transformations in the play – the fall of night in each act and the coming of spring to the tree between acts – the former is much the more dramatic.
Vladimir and Estragon are the two tramps – if they are tramps – who spend their days eluding beatings, if they can, and their evenings waiting for Godot who never comes. These are sad characters, but not glumand Lorcan Cranitch’s aimlessly energetic Vladimir gets the rhythms and cadences of Beckett perfectly. Jeff Rawle (Estragon) complements him admirably, physically beautifully judged, often very funny, but sometimes allowing conventionally “dramatic” tones to intrude. As a pair, they work very well together, though the music hall exchanges go for less in the wide-open spaces.
Richard Cordery’s imposing Pozzo is a particularly urbane bully and Bob Goody makes his mark as Lucky, the one speech part, as much by his unnerving stillness as by his delivery of that amazing tour de force. And either Toby Allwood or William Oxley was terrific as the Boy on Press Night; no doubt the other will be just as good when he gets his chance.
Runs until 27 February 2016 | Image: Johan Persson