Preview: Waiting for Godot


Penny Babakhani

First and foremost, why Waiting for Godot?

Michael Forde (Vladimir and Director): It’s been my dream to do Waiting for Godot since coming to University; I don’t feel enough Beckett and Pinter is done in Durham. All the absurdist stuff is glazed over by student theatre! After doing Endgame, we had this discussion that we’d love to see Godot put on in Durham as it’s just one of the famous, iconic plays in literature. We don’t know when it was last done in Durham, but it doesn’t seem like it’s been done for over a decade!

Samuel Beckett said ‘I produce an object, what people make of it is not my concern’, so how would you say you’re making this object? Is it ‘real’? Or extreme absurdism?

MF: We’re making it real. I feel Beckett had something incredible to say and it’s the job of the actors, the director to make it presentable for the general public. I don’t feel Beckett was really trying to entertain people, I don’t think he was too interested in doing that. He was more about ideas. But at the end of the day, we want our audience to be entertained and so we’re bringing out as much of the comedy as is possible. The absurdity is in the text, the setting; we don’t want to unnecessarily add to that.

Joe Skelton (Estragon and Director): We’re going to try and find some reality in the characters. We’re going to try and make them believable, as you can definitely find that believability in the text.  They’re grumpy, ditzy old men really. When I’ve seen Beckett at its most powerful, it’s always been when I’ve been able to locate something I find real in the characters, when its not some abstract, absurd thing that there’s no way of identifying with.

Daisy Cummins (Assistant Director): We’re not attempting to ‘dumb it down’ at all but to certainly make it an ‘introduction to Beckett.’ When people ask what it’s about, it’s really difficult to answer and we don’t want people to be put off by that. It would be very easy to bamboozle, just pick up the absurdist line and say that ‘we’re doing it like this because it’s absurd and so no other justification is really needed.’ It’s such an intrinsic part of the theatrical canon and it’s absurd that people don’t know what it is. It’s not scary.

JS: There is an farcical element that is just funny in an intuitive way, it’s not just cerebrally stimulating. It’s like mime, like Charlie Chapin; it’s humorous in a very physical way. It doesn’t necessitate thought; thought is just another aspect of it.

Frank Beckett, Samuel Beckett’s own brother, asked him ‘Why can’t you write the way people want?’ Do you think Beckett is intentionally being difficult? Is he trying to be controversial?

All: Definitely [in response to him being intentionally difficult.]

DC: I feel you can really see his relationship with James Joyce or T. S. Elliot in this respect; he’s decided that he’s had a very clever idea and he’s going to write it down in exactly the way he wants to, regardless of the difficulties that that may pose for others reading what he’s written. But part of the difficulty comes as absolutely brilliant stage directions, that actually makes our lives quite easy, once we’ve unravelled what we feel is the difference between a pause, a silence, a long silence. To be difficult Beckett distinguishes between them but in some sense it makes it more simple at the same time.

MF: It’s a difficult show, you need to give it time but we’re having a fun time, even if Joe does keep crying.

JS: Happy tears! Definitely crying with laughter.

Amy Price (Interviewer): Well they do say there’s perhaps a connection between Estragon and Oestrogen!

MF: Ahh! That would make sense! It’s lovely when you find a nugget like that! Another thing we recently thought about is that in the English ‘Godot’ sounds like ‘God’, but in the French there is a term “godillot”, meaning a military boot. So there’s actually a link to the visual motif of boots that is throughout the play in the title.  It just has an earthy connotation. And in general, we’re making it a little more earthy; I’m doing a regional accent, for example. We really feel the English translation has more grandeur than is to be found in the original French version.

JS: In the English they’re in an ethereal purgatory. We want them in a more down-to-earth purgatory.  And in terms of being controversial, it was controversial in terms of the style at the time but not anymore. By now we’re used to this kind of absurdism.

DC: It’s just very human. It’s simple and universal.

So the absurd nature of the play hasn’t been too baffling for you then?

MF: Some times you do read a bit and go ‘what did I just read?’

DC: But that’s what is so enjoyable, once a section is blocked and we’ve worked through it, picking apart line after line, there is a real sense of achievement. You’ve made sense of what is happening.

MF: And of course that’s what makes it ‘our’ show. We’re not just reading out the lines, as can happen with Shakespeare sometimes, or other plays. Because it is tough and because you do get so bogged down in it, you do have to properly think your way out of it.

JS: Following on from that, what we are trying to do is find a justification for each line, which doesn’t has to be made obvious, but just to try and establish what we are doing and saying. That’s what makes it our own.

Would you say, as Beckett did, that the key word in interpreting the play is ‘Perhaps?’ Is it that ambiguous?

JS:  For the audience, the word is definitely ‘perhaps.’ But for an actor, I kinda feel like you need to know what is going on. You’re the only one who needs to know and it can be your own decision. But otherwise you’re not doing your job. Beckett wanted everyone to be lost but I do feel the actors should know what is happening.

DC: Beckett didn’t want anyone to be acting; he just wanted them to ‘do it’. But the actors need to have a sense of place, otherwise they’re just reading a script. It’s the end/not an end that is more the ‘perhaps.’

Will the audience sympathise with the tramps?

DC: If they don’t, we’ll send them home. There’s a beautiful interplay between the tramps that’s so attractive.  They’re a beautiful couple.

MF: They must, from the very first scene we set them up as endearing, entertaining. We switch between the different facets of the relationship as well: they’re like friends, like mother and child, two philosophers debating together. Estagon is maybe the more loveable, but it’s really the interchange between them that is so important. But Vladimir, he’s really the charismatic driving force.

So do you think it is a happy ending or a sad ending?

All: Come see the show!

Photograph: Penny Babakhani

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