Title of performance: Waiting for Godot
Theatre Company: ABA productions in association with AC Productions, Dublin, Ireland
Date of performance: 12 October 2012
Performance venue: DBS Arts Centre – Home of the SRT
A long-awaited production of Samuel Beckett’s acclaimed absurdist play came to our shores recently. Based on the tale of two tramps, Vladimir (played by Marcus Lamb) and Estragon (played by Patrick O’Donnell), who wait aimlessly in the same spot for someone named Godot to arrive, one got a sense that these characters, mere projections of anyone stuck in a no-man’s land with only veiled truths from cryptic messengers to go on, were desperately struggling with their existence and waiting to no end for an answer to their distress.
This play is known for critics’ and literature academics’ diverse interpretations of the text – ranging from philosophical, political, psychological, religious (Christian), even homoerotic readings of the themes therein. Beckett belonged to an elite group of writers who delved into absurdist literature, along with the likes of Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionescoe, and Jean Genet. This classic play on waiting for practically nothing to happen could only enthrall if the cast was strong and the stage directions were entertaining. Both of which far surpassed my expectations, at least in the first act of this tragicomedy.
The director of the production, Peter Reid, did a fine job of showcasing good physical comedy and making clever use of the space on the stage. I say this because the backdrop and props were so minimalistic, in keeping with the nondescript plotlines of the play and the bare description of the setting (“A country road. A tree”), that the actors had to flaunt their movements to keep tedium at bay. There was only a screen that changed from night to day, a rock for the physically needy Gogo (Estragon) to rest on, and the barren tree. And so we enjoyed, indeed, the good physical rapport between the seemingly more intelligent and philosophical Didi (Vladimir), and the whiny and obsessive Gogo, as they entertained themselves with inane dances, embraced each other after separating briefly, relived vaudeville comedy, peered into their bowler hats and struggled with their boots.
It was good fun to watch the bold and striking entrance of landowner Pozzo (played by Paul Kealyn), with his slave Lucky (played by Nick Devlin). The Pozzo and Lucky characters may have been baffling to some at first, but it was soon made very clear that they too were part of the nonsensical and irrational debacle that Didi contemplates as life. Didi and Gogo first mistake the pompous Pozzo for Godot, but Pozzo quickly refutes this and introduces himself. His abusiveness to the loyal and subservient Lucky causes the poor man to be bent over nearly throughout the whole production from carrying a bag and a basket of Pozzo’s things. Devlin shines in this role as he takes deliberately heavy steps and makes every single one of Lucky’s movements look and feel burdensome to the audience. He had the vacant stare down pat. His was my favourite character, acting like a human dog with a rope around his neck, enslaved to a cruel master who called him “hog” and “pig”. He had no individual autonomy and even stooped to the level to hold his own whip for Pozzo. One of the outstanding moments in the production was when Lucky spouted a staggering monologue full of gibberish after being instructed by Pozzo to “think”, interspersed with repetitions of “in spite of”, “the facts are there” and “time will tell”, and coupled with reference to academics and allusions to Christianity. This monologue drove home the grotesquely comical way that humans sometimes try to make sense of life and present it academically, only to bungle it in a long and vacuous speech of sorts. In Act 2, Pozzo becomes blind and Lucky, mute, supposedly describing fallen greatness and human foolishness respectively.
My other favourite bits were when both Lamb and O’Donnell spouted crisply the famous aphorisms and sayings from the show on meaninglessness and nothingness which currently resonate with audiences worldwide:
“Gogot: Nothing to be done.”
“Gogo: Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”
“Gogo: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist? Didi: (impatiently): Yes yes, we’re magicians. But let us persevere in what we have resolved, before we forget.”
“Gogo: We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy? Didi: Wait for Godot. (Estragon groans. Silence.) Things have changed here since yesterday. Gogo: And if he doesn’t come? Didi: (After a moment of bewilderment.) We’ll see when the time comes. (Pause.)”
And so it is that Didi and Gogo question why they are waiting for Godot day after day when they don’t have an inkling of who he is and why he wants them to wait for him. In what I think is a crucial speech in the show, Didi questions the value of waiting:
“Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be? (Estragon, having struggled with his boots in vain, is dozing off again. Vladimir looks at him.) He’ll know nothing. He’ll tell me about the blows he received and I’ll give him a carrot. (Pause.) Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) I can’t go on! (Pause.) What have I said? He goes feverishly to and fro, halts finally at extreme left, broods. Enter Boy right. He halts. Silence.”
Describing life to be only a process from cradle to grave, where “down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps”, is a most graphic and despondent sentiment. The closing scene shows the two urging each other to go, though both remain immovable. But unlike the opening scenes of both acts, both Didi and Gogo are now standing together, instead of apart when one was resting on a rock and the other stationed beside the tree. Of all the arbitrariness in Beckett’s play, this is perhaps the only certainty – that we will all go through some process of waiting, but we will be haplessly together when doing so. And this, for me, is the ingenuity of this seemingly hopeless tragicomedy.
ABA Productions’ Waiting for Godot played at the DBS Arts Centre – Home of the SRT from 10 – 13 October 2012.