It is always a liberating moment when browsing the literature in your programme to come across a blunt and brutally honest quotation by such a master as Sir Peter Hall. As the first director of Waiting for Godot, before its premiere in London he was quoted to say, “I don’t understand this play and we are not going to waste time trying to understand it.” Hail to that Sir Peter! Waiting for Godot is essentially about two homeless men, who we watch fritter away their time while they anticipate the arrival, or non-arrival of a man called Godot; and fritter away their time they do… for three long hours. Was I enthralled for those three long hours? You bet I was. Samuel Beckett himself abhorred the need to understand his plays and therefore I adhere to his words and unquestionably sit and watch as two men discuss their shoes being too tight and if they fancy hanging themselves off a weak and feeble tree branch.
Each actor in turn lived up to the fine quality of acting that I have learnt to expect from productions at the Barbican. Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving (well known for The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings) in their roles as Estragon and Vladimir are a pure treat. With delicate madness, subtle humour and carefully controlled absurdity, I have scarcely witnessed such a high calibre of acting. I was lost, immersed and utterly enthralled within the world these fine, experienced actors had created for us. Estragon and Vladimir are such extraordinary complex characters and with less successful direction I can imagine that they could come across as simply mad; too extreme in their characteristics to be seen as genuine. But how can you question a character’s authenticity when it is believed and owed fully and completely by the actor portraying it? That is what was given to me last night. Two extremely heightened characters acted with such precision and delicacy that I never once doubted their authenticity.
Luke Mullins as Lucky and Philip Quast as Pozzo again find truth and depth in characters that seem, on the face of it, so ludicrous, and Harrison Donnelly, at such a tender age, plays a more than credible Boy for his London stage debut. Andrew Upton really has lead this cast to a flawless start to what I imagine will be a hugely successful run.
The play, like most of Beckett’s work, is a difficult watch, and I would be lying to insinuate anything else. It is long, lacks plot and leaves you with a sense of emptiness, as well as wondering about your own insignificance in this universe. But if a theatre is going to put on a Beckett play, this is how to do it. If you want to see a Beckett play, this is unquestionably the one to watch!
Waiting for Godot is playing at the Barbican until 13 June. For tickets and more information, see the Barbican website. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti.