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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Waiting for Godot
New Ambassadors Theatre Autumn 2006

Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot is arguably the single greatest work of literature of the Twentieth Century.

That in itself is reason to rush to this limited run, whether you've seen the play before or not. (Would you pass up a production of Hamlet just because you've seen it before?)

But there's more. The first-ever British production of the play was directed in 1955 by the barely-out-of-university Peter Hall, who returned to the play fifty years later to direct this Bath Theatre Royal production now belatedly moving to London. This is as close to authoritative as you can get.

Beckett's image of the two tramps waiting for a meeting with someone who will almost certainly not show up has become iconic. As Vladimir and Estragon dream of the warmth, security, comfort, purpose and definition they hope Godot will bring to their lives, we watch them unknowingly generate out of themselves all the warmth, security, comfort, purpose and definition they could hope for.

Fifty years ago Beckett's elliptical, minimalist style made the play seem obscure, but the world has caught up to him (Kids study the play at school) and his vision of reassurance in a bleak-seeming universe resonates to almost everyone.

And what has Peter Hall found in the play fifty years on? A thoroughly realistic and domestic portrait of two guys who might have just stepped out of local pubs (though perhaps not the same one). The characterisations and relationship of James Laurenson's down-at-heel patrician and almost motherly Vladimir and Alan Dobie's working-class (with a hint of ex-military) Irish Estragon have nothing of the obscure or symbolic about them, and the only slightly odd thing is that they have fallen in together, though even that suggests a democracy of the downtrodden.

You believe completely when Beckett makes these two men settle into the familiar rhythms of oft-repeated conversations and become frightened when briefly separated, and so you recognise that their bond provides more of real importance than Godot could ever deliver.

There is a price to this richly-textured naturalism. Those familiar with the play may miss the comic relief as conversations repeatedly slip into the rhythms of music hall double acts, since Peter Hall has clearly directed the actors to work against the artifice and play down or gloss over the jokes.

The naturalistic style is also somewhat less successful with the play's other couple, the more openly symbolic (of a false and decadent relationship) couple Pozzo and Lucky. Richard Dormer does something interesting with Lucky's big speech, in which he attempts a philosophical discourse, by racing through a jumble of voices and accents that sounds - quite appropriately and evocatively - like the randomly spliced-together recordings of a dozen separate speakers.

But it was a mistake to have Terence Rigby play Pozzo as a real, if overly self-dramatising human stretching every single speech to melodramatic length. Pozzo is simply not who the play is about or who we are interested in, and as his scenes drag on and on, the production loses all its focus and energy. (I hasten to reiterate that this was clearly a directorial choice, and the always reliable Rigby is just doing as he was told.)

So I have seen the play done better. But it remains an essential play, and this production one of particular interest as Peter Hall's revised vision.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Waiting for Godot - Ambassadors 2006