Review: Waiting for Godot

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With most plays, the seemingly simple question of ‘what is this play about’ is always easy to answer with an equally simple answer. Yet Sameul Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953) is an exception to this rule. With a lot of other plays, a clear and distinct lexicon emerges which serves to answer the question of what a play is about, Hamlet is about Kings and power, Uncle Vanya is a play about age and family, but with Waiting for Godot one would struggle to present the same kind of characterisation. In a sentence, Waiting for Godot proves the old maxim that art should be opaque and through this theme Waiting for Godot has remained one of the most tantalising literary enigmas of the twentieth century. Indeed, even after just over seventy years since the play was first premiered, Waiting for Godot still remains a literary enigma, which acts flirt and entice a new generation to approach this most famous of literary enigmas.

Yet despite this ‘enigma status’, Waiting for Godot is a play whose fundamental features have remained constant throughout its seventy-one year lifespan. Before one even steps into the theatre you know there will be Chaplinesque characters at the centre of the stage and story, there will be the overarching willow tree sitting plainly yet boldly as the drama progresses. So, with these facts considered, problems of innovation arise and should lead you to ask one essential question, namely, ‘how can one produce a new and vibrant version of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot‘? It was with these kinds of questions that I went to see a new production of Waiting for Godot produced by Sixth Side Theatre Company at Trevelyan College.

All the performances lent into the comic DNA (which is an integral part of the play) to good effect producing a humorous and comedic voice

This production was unsurprising in terms of how the play was presented and the themes which Beckett wrote about remained untainted and clear throughout this production, yet this production lent more into the comedy and was characterised by performances that endeavoured to illuminate the comedy contained within Beckett’s text.

All the performances lent into the comic DNA (which is an integral part of the play) to good effect producing a humorous and comedic voice which formed the overall milieu and colour of this production. The cast tapped skillfully into the comedic elements of the play which is easier said than done considering the fact that Beckett is not known for his gags and yet the cast was able to find the humour of the text which is not always readily apparent in Beckett’s writings.

Now, to focus on the staging of the play, this production was performed at the Dowrick Suite at Trevelyan College, which is a small and intimate venue. When I first sat down, I was fearful that this constricting and small setting would make for an equally restricted production by virtue of the fact of the propinquity between audience and actor. However, this issue of setting was tempered by an admirable respect for the fourth wall and an ability to use this closeness to the comedic advantage of the production. The staging is simplistic, which made the production feel somewhat ramshackle, but fortunately the performances were able to match these limited conditions. In all, this production highlighted the humour which Beckett is not often known for and used this fundamental element of the play to produce a comedic and rather fresh and interesting approach to the text.

This production offered a humorous approach to the text which served as an example of how Beckett and his writings continue to inspire a new generation of actors

While watching this production, one question remains – that being the question of why it is that Waiting for Godot has remained interesting and challenging enough to continue to inspire new productions and versions of the play. Some other critics have described Waiting for Godot as a ‘puzzlement’, I would argue that this is because Waiting for Godot does not share components with other plays that have been able to achieve the same level of fame. It is a play of two halves, it is a tempered comedy with absurd philosophy at the same time. I would argue that it is this diametric balance of two sides of human nature which has kept this play as thrilling across a number of generations. 

In terms of literary history, Waiting for Godot was the first play which realised ‘waiting’ to be an important and challenging literary theme and fundamental component of the human condition. Beckett was one of the first writers to realise the importance of the theme of ‘waiting’ in literature. Whether it be waiting to find love or waiting for death, Beckett revealed to us that waiting was an integral part of the human condition.

Ultimately, this production offered a humorous approach to the text which served as an example of how Beckett and his writings continue to inspire a new generation of actors and producers and highlighted the timeless importance of Waiting for Godot.

Image credit: Sixth Side Theatre Company

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