Sunday, 9 May 2010

Waiting for Godot with Sir Ian McKellen ****

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Theatre Royal Haymarket
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne,  May 9 to 2, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Waiting for Godot is a play about nothing – and everything. It is heart breaking and hilarious in its impeccable balance of tragedy and comedy. Samuel Beckett changed the face of modern theatre when he wrote it in 1949.

Two vagrants – or clowns – meet daily at dusk to wait for the elusive Godot, their saviour and tormenter who never arrives. It encapsulates the existential dilemma. Two bare, forked, human animals, trapped in an unspecific time and place, wait for an unknown man, desperately filling empty hours until night falls and they can leave. It’s the nightmare version of Groundhog Day.

Sir Ian McKellen is Estragon (Gogo) and Roger Rees plays Vladimir (Didi) in Sean Mathias’s production reflects the daily anguish and mindless distractions of existence. Gogo and Didi wail and rail about their predicament, filling meaningless minutes with mindless banter, arguments and fleeting diversions, even considering hanging themselves from the solitary tree.

McKellen’s Gogo is compelling and detailed. He echoes scruffy derelicts we dodge in alleys with his slow, deliberate Northern accent, forgetfulness, sudden laughter, cheeky looks, vacuous gaze, scrawny legs, flailing arms and tattered clothing. Gogo is playful and delightfully unpredictable, whining about painful feet and cruelly mimicking others.

Roger Rees’ Didi has a faded stateliness reminiscent of a more salubrious past. He is more distressing because of his fraught clutching at reality and frantic attempts to recognise place, time and people. McKellen and Rees revel in Beckett’s blend of Vaudevillian patter, comic business, lyrical, allusive dialogue and philosophical references.

Godot never arrives but two strangers, Pozzo (Matthew Kelly) and Lucky (Brendan O’Hea) appear. Kelly’s Pozzo is mad, belligerent, pompous and cruel. O’Hea is his prefect servant: enslaved, exhausted, obedient and silent until he explodes into a prolonged, gibberish rave.

They all crave peace, oblivion and solitude but cannot do without even the flawed company of their damaged, crazy partners.

Mathias’s production is emotional and psychologically vivid in its colourless, blasted landscape. Stephen Brimson Lewis’s set is a destroyed theatre, complete with ornate balconies and tattered backdrop with anonymous foreboding. But, when we focus on the actors, the environment disappears; the characters become the landscape.

The actors make the story clear through character and dialogue, listening intently and responding with clarity and simple humanity. No need to muddy the play with added interpretive detail. It tells its own anguished tale.

By Kate Herbert

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