Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett
New Ambassadors
(2006)

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There would have been something very wrong with the London theatre scene if this production had not transferred from the Theatre Royal in Bath.

This is the centenary of Samuel Beckett's birth and it is entirely fitting that London has a production of his most famous play by the man who did most to ensure that Beckett's life would be celebrated so widely today.

The original English production of Waiting for Godot opened only about 200 yards from where we are today; but in a past that was almost literally another country still less than ten years away from the Second World War. It too was directed by Sir Peter Hall, long before he attained the Sir and indeed before many people had heard of him.

At that time, theatre of this type was absolutely unheard of with Coward or Rattigan drawing-room comedies de rigueur. The critical reaction to that opening night varied from rapturous enthusiasm to angry disbelief.

This latest incarnation of the play contains some fine performances and worthwhile interpretation, especially of the problems of living with old age and failing faculties.

The two central characters, the tramps Vladimir and Estragon, are giving contrasting characters by James Laurenson and Alan Dobie respectively. The former has the style of a toff fallen on hard times and dreaming of what might have been and still could be if the elusive Godot should ever show his face.

The remarkably intense Estragon is far more taken up with worldly problems such as his sore feet and the more philosophical his friend gets, the greater is his morbid cynicism.

As they deliver their existential poetry, their outlook is changed by the arrival of the ill-matched pair of Lucky and Pozzo.

Terence Rigby, playing the haughtily aristocratic Pozzo, immediately recalls the late Dennis Quilley's performance for the same director at the Old Vic in 1997. He drives his slave, the white-faced human packhorse Lucky, very hard in a demonstration of how badly men can treat not only animals but members of their own species.

Irish actor Richard Dormer, looking uncannily like an ancient version of Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, drools quite repulsively but finally gets his moment of glory in a breathless rendition of Lucky's legendary word-vomit of a speech, which on this occasion with so many dramatic changes of pace and tone sounds like a radio being spun through stations.

At the end of the first day, following Godot's failure to arrive, cast and audience have a break before a subtly changed symbolic repetition that brings home the pointlessness of life awaiting the arrival of a divine being that may not even exist.

This time Messrs Laurenson and Dobie become a comic double-act happily bringing to mind so many legendary comedians, including at various points, any two of the Marx Brothers, the Goons and Morecambe and Wise.

While they are having a rare old time, life has gone sour for the other pair, who seemingly overnight succumb to infirmities, although time is never too firm in this play.

This is a timely reminder of what a good play Waiting for Godot is and how thoroughly it encompasses so much about the futility of the way in which man must exist and accept his lot.

Yet again, Sir Peter Hall triumphs with this play, thanks to a fine cast on good form and aided by some subtly effective lighting from Peter Mumford on Kevin Rigdon's black box stage.

Allison Vale reviewed this production in Bath

Visit our sponsor 1st 4 London Theatre to book tickets for Waiting for Godot

Reviewer: Philip Fisher