en attendant…quoi?

I finally saw – at long last – Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket Theatre Royal this afternoon. I read it when I was 18, but it’s taken this long to find a production of it that was likely to do justice to it. It’s a masterpiece, of course – right now I’m tempted to suggest it might just be the masterpiece, as if the whole point of performance art, maybe the whole point of Europe even, was to produce this one play.

And in particular, it was worth waiting for this cast: Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Vladimir and Estragon; Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup as Pozzo and Lucky… McKellen’s Gogo in particular is so grizzled and so pathetic and so genuinely funny that I don’t think I’ll forget it as a comic performance: every glance, every pause, every vocal inflection is so perfectly timed and delivered that at times it almost felt like Patrick Stewart, in comparison, was phoning his Vladimir in. He wasn’t, of course – it’s just that to perform alongside that kind of presence would surely make any actor feel like they’re being carried. When I saw Stewart do ? in Hamlet back in December he dominated every scene; that just shows how good McKellen was today. But even if Stewart was phoning it in, it wouldn’t matter; he’s so perfectly cast and directed that he can probably afford to do that and still put on an outstanding show…

The only real special thing about the actors though, is that they are actually up to the script. For part of act 2 we watched four men lying still on a stage for ages, and not only did we not get bored but when the dialogue came it was funny enough to make the girl on the row behind me splurt her icecream all over the people in front, who were laughing so much they hardly even noticed. That doesn’t often happen at £50-a-seat matinees.

But this play is remarkable; it seems like for the whole of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Northern Europe had something on the tip of its tongue that it wanted to say and couldn’t quite find the words for. It took an Irishman to even get close, and even then he had to say it in French first (and when he said it the whole thing was dark and thick with the best spirit of Heidegger, who never seemed sure how to say what he was trying to say either). And this play is the closest Europe got to saying it, before realising it was never going to be able to say it clearly and collapsing into whatever postmodern non-signifiers it can still drag itself to managing.

So you can still see this production in English, and you come out feeling confused and lost and strangely focussed, even though we always knew as a contemporary audience that Godot’s not coming (I once had an argument with a French professor at Warwick about whether it wouldn’t be a good idea for Godot to arrive sometimes, just so that there’s still the sense of theatrical suspense that the first audiences who saw it would have experienced. But having seen it properly now, I think that really would defeat the point).

Anyway. The point is, it’s funny and you should see it if you still can. There’s not many dates left, but I paid £50 I can’t afford for my ticket and I’d pay several times that if I had to. See it.

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1 Comment

  1. […] I think I said when I wrote about it before, if you have any interest AT ALL in any kind of literature, philosophy, psychology or performance […]


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