DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Waiting for Godot – Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Writer: Samuel Beckett

Director: Mark Rosenblatt

Designer: Janet Bird

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Tobacco Factory Theatres’ production of Waiting for Godot, in Scarborough at the end of a short tour, aims to remove some of the preconceptions and misconceptions surrounding the play, sometimes in defiance of Beckett’s own views, but retaining its essence. By and large, it works.

Waiting for Godot is the play in which, famously, nothing happens – twice! Vladimir and Estragon meet up at the end of the day, “blather about nothing in particular” and wait for the mysterious Godot, who apparently holds their fate in his hands, to meet up with them. The bullying and dominant Pozzo comes along with his slave, Lucky, and that helps to pass the time. A boy brings a message that Mr. Godot can’t come today, but surely tomorrow. That’s Act 1; it’s also Act 2, but with everything tauter, more concise, and Pozzo and Lucky much reduced from Act 1. 

British productions have tended to characterise Vladimir and Estragon as tramps, not Beckett’s intention. There is no hint of this is Mark Rosenblatt’s production which also presents them as adrift in a more modern industrial world. Estragon’s baseball cap, Vladimir hi-vis jacket (with perverse irony, mostly invisible) chime with the suggestions of a derelict factory setting in the pipes, marker tapes and the steel frame to represent the tree. The freshness is there, but there are losses. The one thing Beckett knew about the men (so he said) was that they wore bowlers; here they don’t and there is a loss in shabby dignity – and the famous music-hall hat sequence goes for little.

The main myth about Waiting for Godot is that it is gloomy and slow. In fact, it is a very funny play, even if the laughter is on the brink of the abyss, and fast-paced between long pauses. Rosenblatt knows this well and, if anything, errs on the side of comedy. In particular, David Fielder’s Vladimir, a compendium of Lancashire comedians’ tics and mannerisms (notably Stan Laurel’s), seems at first to be missing the depths of the text, but gradually Rosenblatt’s and Fielder’s interpretation gains in conviction.

The same goes for Dave Price’s sound design and Matthew Graham’s lighting. Underscoring Lucky’s famous philosophy-into-nonsense speech with music and lighting changes and making night fall so resoundingly, seem in theory against the spirit of the play, but after all that the final stages become unusually gripping in human terms, partly as a result of the dramatic effects. What we lose is the sense of resignation.

One of the problems with Waiting for Godot is how to differentiate the characters. Never have they seemed more different than here. Fielder provides a comic tour de force, pirouetting through his troubles in unsuccessful defiance of them. Colin Connor plays Estragon with the traditional Irish accent, but with a much less traditional alternation of matter-of-fact observation and roars of fury and despair. John Stahl blusters his way effectively through Act 1 as Pozzo and is riveting in the agonies of Act 2. Chris Bianchi is less grotesque than some Luckys, delivering his speech initially as though it makes sense before mania takes over. Seth Pickering, sharing the part of The Boy with Sam Tennant, is as neutrally polite and timid as he should be.

Runs until 25 November 2017 | Image: Mark Dawson Photography

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