By Steph Lam
It is a cliché to say that a play transports one to another world, but this production simply does exactly that. Beckett’s dusty, tragic-comedic world of two men alone on a stretch of road is brought in its full glory onto the Durham stage. What one should be expecting from Beckett is beyond me but it’s easy to tell that this production offers a unique take on Waiting for Godot, with a sophistication that surely rivals professional theatre productions.
Film productions sometimes play out the existential meditations of Waiting for Godot with long silences between Vladimir and Estragon’s lines and I always believed that it only bores its audiences and achieve nothing else. In this production however, it is a delight to be constantly entertained, yet still experience a sense of the deep-seated despair of Beckett’s play. This paradoxical experience is embedded in the play but it is the team’s sophisticated ‘conceptual execution’ of the play, combined with a combination of brilliant direction and acting, that enables them to bring the experience to the audience.
Joe Skelton and Michael Forde, Vladimir and Estragon respectively, give a surprising amount of life to Beckett’s sparse language and subtle characterization, engaging the audience in trivial actions and words until the end of the play, when the overarching futility of the world of the play sinks in. Skelton’s Vladimir comes across as a wide-eyed, enthusiastic character that generally contrasts with Forde’s more sarcastic, bathetic Estragon. It is to the credit of the actors that they manage to convey a sense of a merging of identities through perfectly synchronized movements and delivering lines that echo each other, yet maintain their characters’ individuality through their varied delivery in tone and expression of those same lines.
One of the best features of the team’s execution of the play is perhaps their whole-hearted commitment to the full emotional intensity of every moment of the play. That means that this production oscillates between the terrible force of Pozzo’s cruelty, the chilling depravity of Lucky, and the comically aimless dialogue of Vladimir and Estragon. Hugh Train’s physical contortions were a vivid and horrific thing to watch and Theo Harrison’s Pozzo exuded a chilling calm and indifference. In contrast, Forde and Skelton not only brought out the wittiness of Beckett’s lines with perfect comedic timing, but also with the addition of descriptive gestures.
The well-designed set and soft lighting added a romantic and elegant edge to the atmosphere of the play. The set was an elegant rendition of ‘A country road. A tree. Evening’ with a tree with fragile branches standing squarely center backstage. A pale orange glow evoked a gentle twilight but its sudden change to midnight blue captures the confusing timescale of Beckett’s play. Sand covering the stage floor and mists of dust rising up from the floor are another well-thought out detail of the production.
It has to be mentioned that the beeping of the smoke detectors in the Assembly Rooms did disrupt the play for quite a length of time but the production team resolved the problem and really, nothing short of an actual fire should stop you from going to see the play.
Photograph: Penny Babakhani