Waiting for Godot

Waiting for GodotThe Theatre Royal Haymarket Company production
Reviewed 1PM performance Thurs 10th June 2010

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: 7:30PM Thurs 10th to Sat 12th June, 2PM Sat 12th June
Duration: 2hrs 20mins with 20min interval
Tickets: Adult $89
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or

Samuel Beckett’s two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, are waiting at the roadside for the elusive Godot, once more, in the hope of being offered something that will save them. This time, under the direction of Sean Mathias it is Sir Ian McKellen and Roger Rees in the roles, with Matthew Kelly as the bombastic Pozzo, who passes by them each day.

Lucky, whom Pozzo leads around by the rope around his neck and beats with a whip, and the boy who comes late each day from Godot, to say that he cannot come that day but will surely be there tomorrow, are the other two characters. Save for his one virtuoso speech, when he is asked to demonstrate ‘thinking’, Lucky is silent, yet Brendan O’Hea says vast amounts in in the role through his posture, gestures, expressions and general body language.

Beckett, who translated it from his own play, written in French, En Attendant Godot, subtitled the piece as “a tragicomedy in two acts”, although it was later referred to by Vivian Mercier, unforgettably, as “a play in which nothing happens, twice”. This existentialist piece is one of the best known works from the genre of Theatre of the Absurd and has been produced many, many times in its 57 year life, a testimony to its importance.

Estragon and Vladimir are lifetime friends, so close that they have pet names for one another. Vladimir calls Estragon ‘Gogo’ and Estragon calls him ‘Didi’. They have an interdependent relationship and appear almost like an old married couple. The big question is, though, what is a lifetime, since time is only a relative concept and, in this play, it seems to have little meaning. The second act finds Vladimir  referring to the incidents in the first act as “yesterday”, yet the dead tree is now “covered in leaves”, a mere handful of them hanging on for dear life. The very short-sighted Pozzo is now blind and he insists that Lucky is dumb. Only Vladimir remembers meeting Pozzo and Lucky the day before, and they do not appear to know the tramps. Even the boy, bringing Godot’s message, yet again, claims to have never seen them before. Estragon even questions whether they are in the same place, as he did at the very beginning of the play. It is almost as though they are caught in a time loop.

Stephen Brimson Lewis has created a sensational set, a decayed theatre with a collapsed proscenium arch, fallen walls, fly bars hanging at angles, with shreds of curtain still attached, the stage dangerously holed and the dead tree protruding through it. Paul Pyant’s subtly changing lighting, as the evening draws in and the shafts of weak daylight change to moonlight, is marvellous. The costumes and makeup are so realistic that you will probably want to take a shower when you get home. Even the sound is lightly applied to enhance and not detract from the performance.

And what performances! Mathias chose well with McKellen and Rees as they work together so closely that one could easily believe that have, indeed, been friends for half a century, waiting by this tree every day in abject boredom try to find distractions to pass the time. One of the faults often seen in productions of this play is that the actors seem to be in a rush to finish, but not here. The short pauses and the extended silences so important to this work are timed to perfection by Mathias and his cast.

Vladimir is the more dominant of the two men, cajoling, bossing and assisting his friend Estragon. Rees gives a sympathetic reading to this role, displaying a very caring aspect to the character alongside an inner strength that has to suffice for the two of them. His is a finely balanced performance shpowing great depth of insight into the character.

Estragon is the more childlike of the two and relies on Vladimir for advice and explanations. It was fascinating to watch McKellen’s eyes as Estragon negotiated concepts that he found difficult. The light completely faded from them, then a glimmer started to return as the thought processes began to gel, and then came short-lived brilliance when he finally understood, before lapsing once again. You could see the impact of every thought that Estragon struggled with, in this masterful performance.

Matthew Kelly is big, bold and brash, yet concurrently fragile, in the role of Pozzo, bringing more levels to the character than are generally seen. The switch in his approach to his character in the first act to that the second is enormous. Brendan O’Hea amazes as much with the variations that he is capable of attaining in a silent role, as he does for his tour de force speech.

Actors and productions of this calibre do not pass this way that often, so be sure to take advantage of this rare opportunity before the season ends on Saturday.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide.

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