Passing The Time
Samuel Beckett’s "Waiting For Godot" is the theatrical equivalent of a jazz standard. Everyone’s familiar with it and many have either seen or read it more than once. Yet when it comes to talking about it people are more likely to talk about what production they’ve seen rather than the play itself. Over the decades there have been many outstanding productions. So do we really need another one? Well, that’s the thing with jazz standards: the basic components might remain unchanged, but they are forever renewable and re-imaginable. And when done right, they open new ways to embrace the original. As is the case with …no alternative… in association with ETHOS’s version of Beckett’s classic. With a cast spanning four decades of Gaiety School of Acting alumni, "Waiting For Godot" pays fitting tribute to director Patrick Sutton’s twenty-seven years at the Gaiety School’s helm. More importantly, it delivers a bracingly good "Waiting For Godot" that can hold its own with some of the very best.
Under Sutton’s smooth direction, "Waiting For Godot" is no passive Godot wherein everyone’s resigned to waiting idly around. Rather this is an active Godot in which Vladimir and Estragon push against existential ennui and theological absence, forever weighted down by the elevating pressure of hope. Their days might be habits of memory and forgetting, but there’s hope informing their need to be seen, to be alone together or together alone, and in their endless waiting. Showing an understated genius in exploiting movement and space, Sutton use both to reinforce these central themes; with movement circling in small or large patterns, or else in set diagonal lines, accentuating the sense of restless repetition and habit. Throughout, there’s a wonderful piss and spit earthiness to it all, wrapped up in a dishevelled vaudevillian showmanship full of wide armed gesturing and larger than life - but not too much larger - playfulness. And not just during the superb dance and hat routines.
Indeed, another of Sutton’s successful choices is in unashamedly embracing Beckett’s silent movie and vaudevillian leanings. A hugely impressive Donal Courtney as Estragon and a wickedly good Charlie Hughes as Vladimir could easily pass for the type of comic double act that once owned the English Music Halls and Northern Club Circuit, with Hughes’ face a legible mask of comedic expressiveness. Visually, Ellen Kirk’s splendid costumes paints them as tramps from the silent movie era. A wise choice, with Courtney’s Estragon frequently moving like a slim, put upon Oliver Hardy stricken with gout, while Hughes’ Vladimir waddles about like Charlie Chaplin with a urinary tract infection. Gerard Byrne’s brash and bombastic Pozzo brings a restless impatience to affairs that soon begins to captivate. As does Rex Ryan’s Lucky. Ryan might do little, but Ryan plays it as if the whole play counted on his performance, never missing a beat or a moment of leg shaking severity. Daniel Shields as Godot’s messenger also does a fine job.
Everyone has ideas as to what "Waiting For Godot" is about and how it should be played. So not everyone will run with all the choices Sutton makes. Yet under Sutton’s superb direction "Waiting For Godot" teases out the beautifully heartbreaking of lived human moments rather than the dusty abstractions of academia. Maybe Beckett’s right and it’s all just distraction to pass the time at the end of the day. If so, "Waiting For Godot" is the best way to pass the time. Be advised: it’s a sauna in Smock Alley with the current temperatures. Bring a bottle of water. But even if you have to suffer the heat a little: go see this show.
"Waiting For Godot" by Samuel Beckett, presented by …no alternative…in association with ETHOS, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until August 10.
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre.