Chris Eldon Lee reviews London Classic Theatre Company’s 60th anniversary production of ‘Waiting For Godot’, which is at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn until September 11th and then tours nationally – including dates at the Wolverhampton Arena and Newtown’s Theatr Hafren in October, and the New Vic in Newcastle-Under Lyme in November.
When you go to see a show that won “The 1955 Most Controversial Play of the Year Award” you might suspect you are in for a challenging night; especially as that particular accolade was never awarded again.
My favourite review points out that Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ “achieved the theoretically impossible. It’s a play in which nothing happens, but still keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, Beckett has written a play in which nothing happens, twice”.
But it’s how it happens that matters; and at last night’s premiere performance at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn, London Classic Theatre got it spot on. It was a hypnotically meditative evening. You just need the stamina to see it through.
The two tramps are a delight. Richard Heap (as a northern no nonsense Estragon) and Peter Cadden (as the light intellectual Vladimir) had an extra week in rehearsal together just to explore the text – and it’s certainly paid off. They appeared to understand every word of Beckett’s convolutions…even making sense of the bits that don’t make sense. The bowler-hatted, love-hate duo were so warm and cuddly, when they hugged each other for comfort I just wanted to leap up there and join in.
Desperately waiting for something to happen, they pass the time by saying “there’s nothing to be done” and speculating about Godot’s arrival. There was an air of the National Lottery about them. They had to keep doing it even though the odds are impossible.
Who does turn up is Pozzo, played with loud, boorish bluster by Jonathan Ashley. His ultra arrogance is in complete contrast to the humble knights of the road. So much so, I almost resented his intrusion…but then became fascinated by how Beckett used him to point up the inequality of our social structure. This ringmaster has his poor serving boy ‘Lucky’ on a long lead and treats all three fellows with contempt…till he desperately needs them in Act 2.
With him out of the way, the fateful tramps consider hanging themselves for self-gratification – if only they had a suitable rope like his. In a neat life-following-art joke, a morose member of the audience asked the interval ice cream lady if she was selling rope….which creased up the whole queue.
Beckett’s strict instructions are that the tramps must wait on a country road at evening, by a tree. Designer Bek Palmer inventively gives them a choice of four trees, each spectacularly suspended from the sky to show their roots; a clever twist on the obvious. Beckett also has them looking out over an Irish bog…a line which must have sent her imagination racing. Her black bog has swamped the stage and she’s given the characters a series of wooden stepping-stones to navigate their way across it. With one stroke of genius she has added an almost balletic choreography to the action….reinforcing the tramps uncertainty about whether they should stick close together or separate in search of freedom. It’s a wonderful physical allegory which I’m already squirreling away.
‘Godot’ will never be a crowd pleaser of course. It’s a play for the connoisseur rather than the casual theatregoer. But this 60th anniversary production is as good as it gets and proves that you can please most of the people for much of the time. You just have to remember you are watching a pivotal piece of theatre history. The poor play simply wouldn’t have worked if it had been written today. One of the tramps would be bound to text Godot to ask him what the hell he was playing at.
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