FringeReview UK 2022
“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”
But of course, lots does happen in ‘Waiting for Godot’. What starts by looking like an interminable period of bickering between the two Tramps is punctured by the arrival of the bourgeois Pozzo and his slave Lucky. Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) seem fated to wait, day after day, for Godot, a figure who never appears. Godot sends a messenger, though, a Boy who tells them that “Mr Godot told me to tell you he won’t come this evening but surely tomorrow.” But we get the feeling that Godot won’t actually come tomorrow, and that the tramps have been stuck in this limbo for a very long time, one day following the next in a never-ending series of disappointments.
As to what the piece is about – when Samuel Beckett was asked who or what was meant by Godot, he replied “If I knew, I would have said so in the play.” So it’s very much a blank canvas, and as audience members we try to find our own interpretation. Beckett’s stage directions are equally neutral – no indication of location or era: just ‘A country road. A tree. Evening.’
It’s the staging that sets this production apart from most others I’ve seen. There’s the usual bare set, with just a small mound of earth, and the sad little tree at the back, but Theatre Nation have done away with the ‘fourth wall’ in the manner of Brecht or Genet. We’re not looking at ‘a country road’ like it was really there in front of us – it’s clearly an acting space, and at the beginning we see all five actors warming up, trying out their lines and movements while we’re waiting for the play to start. Then, once it’s begun, with the tramps on stage and Estragon trying to pull off his boot; the other three characters are sitting off to one side, clearly visible as they wait to make their entrances. The Boy holds a copy of the script and is also acting as a prompt – a role made even clearer when Vladimir calls out ‘Line!’ at one point, and the Boy feeds him the necessary words.
In the programme’s notes David Glass, the Director, says that he wanted to build a ‘physical life’ to the play, based on the often comical and danced elements of music-hall and Commedia dell’Arte, and for this reviewer he’s succeeded brilliantly. The actors have whitened faces, and from Billy Clarke as Vladimir, and Patrick Kealey as Estragon, we got the feeling we were watching an old couple who’ve been together for many years; while there’s more slapstick and dancing round the stage (and each other) than we usually see in ‘Godot’. Similarly, when the gross figure of Pozzo and the pathetic Lucky appear, their movements are stylised and exaggerated to leave us in no doubt as to their character. Overall, there’s a lot more energy and buzz than in many productions of Beckett’s play.
Pozzo of course is a complete grotesque, absolutely oblivious of anything but his own status and satisfying his own desires. Henry Maynard made him the embodiment of upper-class entitlement, and his cruel treatment of Lucky, tethered and driven backward and forward by the crack of a bullwhip, was painful to watch. As the piece is timeless, perhaps every generation finds its own interpretation of ‘Godot’. For me, watching Pozzo stuff his face with chicken while the starving tramps look on, and emptying an entire bottle of wine into his mouth, brought the figure of Boris Johnson irresistibly to mind. Pozzo as BoJo. Beckett wrote that scene almost seventy years ago, but thinking again of Brecht, I wanted someone to come on stage with a large sign reading PARTYGATE.
I’ve talked about the tramps and Pozzo, but it was François Testory as Lucky who was a revelation to watch. Clad in a pale shift, with his narrow face twisted in anguish under the white makeup, he exuded hopelessness and submission as he was forced to endure Pozzo’s relentless domination. Finally, after being restricted to a series of small squeaks, Lucky is ordered to think, and begins his interminable, unintelligible narration. It was mesmerising – shocking and unsettling all at once. Testory is a dancer among his many other skills – he’s worked with the Lindsay Kemp Company – and it showed in his writhing movements as he was fallen on by the others as they made a desperate effort to stop his speech.
Which they manage to do, and Lucky falls silent – that’s the last we hear from him, as he and Pozzo leave. Though in this production, of course, they simply wait at the side of the stage, visible to the audience while the Boy tells Vladimir and Estragon that Godot will not, after all, come that evening.
In the second act they reappear, but by now Pozzo is blind and Lucky is on a much shorter tether so that Pozzo can follow him more easily. Theatre Nation have stuck very closely to the play’s stage directions in the way the action is played – my understanding is that the Beckett Estate is very protective of the playwright’s works, and how they’re performed, and I imagine that they don’t want to be ‘Waiting for the Lawyer’s Letter’.
Near the end of the play the Boy comes again, with the same message as before. The same message, it seems, that they always hear. Godot won’t come this evening, but certainly tomorrow. This is Jack Norris’s first professional stage role, but he gave a hugely assured performance – not just ‘onstage’ as it were; but also as the prompt, sitting at the side, constantly reacting to the other actors and occasionally making eye contact with the audience, letting us know what he thought of their performances. It was beautifully done, a clever way to remind us again that we were actually watching a play – not real life.
As for the play’s meaning – there are probably as many interpretations as there are audience members. You’ll just have to see what you come up with. What I can promise is that you certainly won’t be bored, and that you won’t stop thinking about this performance for a long time.