Friday, 22 May 2009


20/5/09, Haymarket

Written by Penelope:
What is Waiting for Godot about? This question has puzzled audiences since the publication of Samuel Beckett's play in 1949. Each production has its own interpretation and creates its own sense of meaning. The current Haymarket version, directed by Sean Mathias, stars Sir Ian Mckellan as Gogo and Patrick Stewart as Didi. The two old friends are down on their luck and wait, every day, for the appearance of Godot.

Stewart and Mckellan are both extraordinary. The chemistry between the two actors is visible. Their synchronised body language, tap of their bowler hats and easy banter aren't just because both are fabulous actors. They have a genuine warmth and fondness for each other which Gogo and Didi have, despite the bickering. It's like watching a long-term couple who argue but are also lost without each other.

Mckellan plays Gogo as a man with dementia. His forgetfulness, vulnerability and dependence are heart-breaking at times. He acts with his entire body; from the sore-old-man gait, to his tiny hand gestures and his bright, shining, hopeful eyes. Stewart's performance is more youthful - he tenderly protects his old friend and wants to look after him, while at the same time finding him infuriating. Didi seems more knowing, wiser and is the 'care-giver'. When he sings Gogo a lullaby to soothe him to sleep, its almost unbearably moving. As ever, Stewart's diction is superb. The rhythm of Beckett's language comes to the foreground - the clever, clear and ironic lines flow freely from both actors.

The one bad note of the night is Simon Callow as Pozzo. Granted, it's not a character with whom to find sympathy. But Callow seems altogether too pleased with himself and is more of a circus clown than a tragic figure. Ronald Pickup's tragic Lucky is pitch-perfect and pathetic.

There is a huge contrast between the first and second half of the play. The first moves quickly and has a sense of fun. The second act plays up the pathos, the fundamental crisis of the human existence. Why are we here, what's it all about? The audience seemed to find the switch uncomfortable and there were a lot of nervous laughs during some of the most moving speeches in the second act.

For me the magic of the play is that what you think it's about depends on who you are and how you see the world. For an optimist, it doesn't matter that Godot never seems to come, the anticipation, the preparation and the life in the meantime is the important thing. For a pessimist, the question could be: What is the point of human life when you're waiting for someone or something which never comes and which there is no point in hoping for?

I went with two companions and we had very different views on this. But we were all touched. We shared the evening but it was also a profound personal experience. And the play does stay with you - that night I dreamt of Didi and Gogo debating the meaning of life and even three days later, some of the lines have stayed with me: "To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!"

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