Monday 12 May 2014

Theatre review: Waiting for Godot

I know it's pretty much all anyone expects of me, but I really should stop letting my libido dictate my theatregoing. This time the prospect of an attractive actor has let me go against my better judgement and well-documented aversion to Samuel Beckett, and book for the impenetrable dullard's best-known play in which, famously, nothing happens. Twice. The attractive actor, Tom Palmer, is at least very attractive, although as Vladimir in Waiting for Godot he's also lumbered with green teeth, numerous sores and bald patches. Because Simon Dormandy's production veers as far from the path as the draconian Beckett estate will allow (I saw an article that was quite impressed he was allowed to give the actors baseball caps instead of the bowler hats demanded by the script, which gives you an idea of what anyone trying to inject their own personality into a production is dealing with.)

The elderly countryside tramps of the play aren't a sight that strikes a chord in anyone's real life nowadays, so Dormandy has been granted permission to change them into something more uncomfortably familiar, and Vladimir and Estragon (Tom Stourton) are now homeless young crack addicts.

The play sees two consecutive, near-identical evenings in the men's lives, in which they battle ill-fitting boots and bladder infections, bemoan the lack of a rope to hang themselves with, and wait for the mysterious Godot to come and perhaps save them. Both nights they get visits from the wideboy gangster Pozzo (Jonathan Oliver) and his slave Lucky (Michael Roberts,) before a boy claiming to come from Godot arrives to tell them his boss won't be coming, and they'll have to wait for him another night.

The lead actors differentiate clearly between their characters, Stourton's resigned, exhausted Gogo the more natural physical comedian of the pair, Palmer's more superficially optimistic Didi barely holding a deep despair at bay. Their joy at the sight of Pozzo's crack pipe, and the idea of turning Godot's Boy messenger (Adam Charteris) into an Eastern European rent boy, gives a hint as to what Godot might be in this incarnation, and what kind of end to their problems Didi and Gogo are hoping for from him.

The fact that the production's been allowed a spark of originality is a plus, and I even laughed a few times, but as ever the playwright's ability to make minutes feel like hours asserted itself - Beckett and I are just never going to get on. Still, there were several consecutive minutes during which I didn't want to commit genocide, which technically makes this one my best-ever Beckett experiences.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is booking until the 14th of June at Arcola Studio 1.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes including interval.

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