Waiting For Godot
Waiting For Godot West Yorkshire Playhouse 7th February 2012
In collaboration with Talawa, Britain's foremost black-led theatre company, Ian Brown directs Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot. This is Brown's swan song before leaving his position as West Yorkshire Playhouse's artistic director, a role he has held since 2002.
The play is situated in the Courtyard theatre, as opposed to the much larger Quarry to which it may have been better suited due to the constant allusions of void and infinite space Beckett makes in his text. Nevertheless, the space is stripped down to its bare bones, the only set piece being the iconic tree forcing its way through the geometric marble-esque flooring, breaking the rigidity of the space. Due to Beckett's wishes, there's not an awful lot you can do with the set of Godot, but Paul Wills and Chris Davey (designer and lighting designer, respectively) create a striking stage which is both familiar yet at the same time completely distant and isolated. The set and lighting serves the performance beautifully and gives the audience constant reminders of the characters' absolute isolation and lack of knowledge about anything that lies just beyond their field of vision - anyone or anything can emerge from anywhere at any time, all Vladimir (Jeffery Kissoon) and Estragon (Patrick Robinson) have to do is wait for their arrival - and wait they do.
Godot is a notoriously difficult play for actors and directors alike. Although overall it is a captivating production, Beckett's dense poetry and existential allegory can at times become confused and uninteresting, specifically in the first appearance of Pozzo (Cornell S John) and Lucky (Guy Burgess). There is something about John's performance which leaves a bad taste in the mouth - whereas all other characters manage to develop a convincing logic behind their characters, John comes across as far too tyrannical and attempts odd moments of humour, many of which fell flat. Burgess however commands the stage as Lucky, he is endearing and fascinating and his rendition of the famous 'think, pig' monologue is with no doubt the best I have seen. It is very easy for Lucky to be ignored in Godot but Burgess' humour, wit and physical demonstration make it an impossibility.
The star of the show, however, has to be Robinson as Estragon. His performance leaves little to be criticised. He is funny and amiable and his command of Beckett's style eases our understanding of the dense language. This is something that Brown must be applauded for, throughout Vladimir and Estragon's waiting, the subtext in Beckett's language remains perceptively sharp. This is particularly true for the second act in which the poignancy of the waiting takes on an emotional gravity which genuinely left me unsettled.
My main criticism of the production comes not from the characters or handling of the text, but from the movement. Godot, although stationary within its setting, is a fervently erratic and frenetic play. There is no wonder, then, why Aline David has been brought in as a movement director; she also choreographed the National's recent production of Wesker's The Kitchen in which the movement was sheer spectacle, precisely timed and complex in its design. However, in Godot, the movement lacks spontaneity and vigour. Tussles between Gogo and Didi appear contrived and attempt at slapstick humour better left to the Chuckle Brothers. Although it may have been part of the movement design ,the section in which Vladimir and Estragon fall upon Pozzo and Lucky was very poorly executed and the falls would have been better had they have come out of visible physical tension and lack of balance. I even saw one actor check the ground for a split second and then shuffle to the side presumably so they could land more comfortably, pre-empting the oncoming fall and ruining the tension of the scene.
Nevertheless, if you haven't seen Godot before, this is a strong production with an impressive cast and is well worth seeing so as to understand the complexity of Beckett's text within performance. The final beat of infinite futility is an impressively powerful one which deserves to be seen regardless of the fact that 'nothing happens, twice' along the way.