WAITING FOR GODOT by Samuel Beckett
A Theatre Royal Haymarket Company Production
Directed by Sean Mathias
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, 20 June 2010
The wait is over to see Sir Ian McKellen on Australian shores, in a highly anticipated production of Waiting For Godot.
Sean Mathias’s production is on international tour, with Roger Rees (Vladimir), Matthew Kelly (Pozzo) and Michael Burrell (Lucky) joining the only original cast member, McKellen, as Estragon.
In a crumbling theatre, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, where the famous tree pokes up through fractured floorboards, Estragon and Vladimir wait for Godot every day. As they wait, they meet Pozzo and his frail slave, Lucky, who limps along at the end of a rope, laden with luggage and abuse. To pass the time, they argue, they sing, they play games, they exercise, they contemplate hanging themselves. They always find something, notes Gogo, “to give the impression [they] exist”.
McKellen’s performance is superb. His Estragon is vulnerable and maudlin, addled with pain and struggling to survive, yet with a wry smile and vaudevillian swagger, he is undoubtedly the comic hero of the play. Rees’ Vladimir is stoic and rational, with moments of tenderness. McKellen and Rees resemble a scruffy double-act, clowning and bantering in perfect synchronicity.
What does the play mean? Among readers intent on arriving at a concrete conclusion, Godot does not sit comfortably. Beckett said that “the early success of Waiting for Godot was based on a fundamental misunderstanding, that critics and public alike insisted on interpreting in allegorical or symbolic terms a play which was striving all the time to avoid definition”. When people sought clear-cut explanations of Godot in Beckett, he invariably side-stepped their questions. To director Alan’s Schneider’s question, “Who or what does Godot mean?”, he replied, “If I knew, I would have said so in the play”.
The first words of the play, “Nothing to be done”, reveal its focus: inaction. Beckett rejects the idea that drama tells a story, by making his audience wait for something to happen – the arrival of the elusive Godot, who never comes. Vivian Mercier famously said that Beckett “has achieved a theoretical impossibility – a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.” (Irish Times, 18 February 1956, p. 6.)
To celebrate this “tray, tray, tray bong” production of Godot, I have collected some of my favourite lines.
Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It’d give us an erection.
Estragon: (highly excited). An erection!
Vladimir: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That’s why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
Estragon: Let’s hang ourselves immediately!
Pozzo: The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.
Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.
Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression that we exist?
Pozzo: They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.
Vladimir: But you can’t go barefoot!
Estragon: Christ did.
Vladimir: Christ! What has Christ got to do with it. You’re not going to compare yourself to Christ!
Estragon: All my life I’ve compared myself to him.
Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
Vladimir: That’s what you think.