Theatre review: Waiting for Godot.

Posted: May 24, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

Waiting for Godot

Starring:  Oscar Petersen, David Isaacs, Graham Weir, Martin le Maitre and Gabriel Marchand 

Director:  Damon Galgut, Stage manager:  Leila Bloch

at The Little Theatre until 5 June. ASTRID STARK reviews

First published in Cape Times, 24 May 2010

At last, the moment that fans of Samuel Beckett and lovers of all things existential and absurd have been waiting for has arrived.  Damon Galgut, who has published 7 novels, directs Waiting for Godot which has opened to a packed audience.  I saw this play for the first time in London as a 21 year-old country mouse from the Eastern Cape who was raised on church and school musicals, and it blew my mind.  I understood nothing of it, yet it made perfect sense   Years later I am delighted to find that the enjoyment of the play has only deepened and the South African adaptation of it goes down rather well.  Galgut’s direction of Beckett’s dense and complicated text is firm yet filled with compassion and gentle humour.  The duo of Oscar Petersen and David Isaacs play the two friends, Vladimir and Estragon respectively.  The wretched pair is trapped inside a seemingly meaningless game of waiting for a person called Godot.  It’s no spoiler to say that Godot never arrives and we are never told who he is.  Whilst waiting the friends meet Pozzo, a cruel slave driver, and his slave absurdly called Lucky, who break the monotony with a little heartless song and dance between master and servant.  And that is really all that happens, yet you find yourself afraid to blink in case you miss anything.

The play has been referred to as a good example of the Theatre of the Absurd which often sees its characters trapped by unseen or unexplained forces.  The characters struggle to make any sense out of a seemingly senseless situation.  However, like quicksand, the more they struggle the deeper they sink into the banality of it all.   The play takes place in two acts and the only props are a tree, suitcases, a chair and a rope. 

It would all be very dismal and depressing if it was not for Beckett’s sharp wit and pathos that gently disperses the shadows to the corners of the stage.  The two friends spend their time pondering the meaning of life and the absurdity of having to live it.  Isaac’s character is melancholy, “Pity we don’t have a bit of rope,” he laments, “Remind me tomorrow to bring a bit of rope.” However, he seems overwhelmed by apathy and is incapable of taking action.  Petersen’s character is more philosophical about their situation as he contemplates religion and their role inside the world and the nature of this Godot.  For all his speculation and intelligence he too seems to go around in circles.  Isaac and Petersen’s experience of working together seems to have created a deep bond which is made visible in their body language and the empathy towards each other’s characters. Their monotony is broken by the arrival of Martin le Maitre as the slave driver and Graham Weir as the luckless Lucky.   Le Maitre is perfect for this role as his character alternates between brutality and self-pity.  Graham Weir’s delivers an astounding performance as he transforms himself into the slave.  The delivery of his speech is fantastic. 

A criticism would be the costume design of the two friends.  They are dressed in black suits with bright pink and yellow and green patches sewn onto it. It feels too obvious and one dimensional to dress them as clowns – although it is one aspect of their personalities.  They are you and me, philosophers, fools, representatives of humanity.  Or if you really want, as Carl Jung philosophised them, they are the anima and the masculine principles of the archetypical personalities. 

The beauty of Godot is that you may allow the characters to be precisely who and what you want them to be. How you perceive them is quite possibly affected by the filters that you have acquired through your living years.  Some people speculate that Godot has a very religious meaning yet Beckett scoffed at that and often suggested that the word comes from the French slang for boot, godillot.  I would venture a guess that the only thing that we know for certain about Waiting for Godot, is that we really don’t really know anything and perhaps this is the beautiful absurdity of the play. 

The end

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