King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – 13 to 18 April 2009
Waiting for Godot is Samuel Beckett‘s modernist masterpiece, an existentialist examination of the futility of the human condition. It follows two days in the lives of Vladimir and Estragon, who meet every evening to wait for the eponymous Godot, only to be told he will not come that night and to try again tomorrow. As they pass the time they are interrupted by Pozzo and Lucky, a rich man and his servant. This highly anticipated production brings together two giants of the stage and screen, and it is truly a pleasure to watch. The sell-out audiences are coming to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but they will stay for a wonderful treatment of one of the most important plays of the last century.
The beautiful set, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, is reminiscent of a bombed- out theatre, complete with raked stage and box seats. It is hinted in the script that Vladimir and Estragon are perhaps aging showmen, a double act who have been together for fifty years; Stewart and McKellen are clearly attuned to this interpretation and (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) perform as two of the most famous actors of their generation, now grown old but still well worth the ticket price. This self-awareness does not come at the price of the play – in fact, quite the opposite is true. It is evident that the entire cast have a deep respect for Beckett’s work, and a real sense of joy in the complexity and depth of every line they speak.
Stewart excels as Vladimir (“Didi”), the more cognisant of the pair, who seems most able to clutch at the concrete facts of time and constantly reminds his companion that they must stay where they are and wait for Godot. McKellen’s Estragon (“Gogo”) is wonderfully doddery and remains less than convinced, balefully following his friend’s orders to wait for the sake of waiting. The cast is nicely rounded out by an appropriately red-faced, blustery Simon Callow as Pozzo and Ronald Pickup as his tragically labouring servant, Lucky, whose soliloquy after he is told to “think” is one of the highlights of the play – a maddening spiral of near-nonsense language.
There is humour throughout Waiting for Godot, which Stewart and McKellen control masterfully, but ultimately it is Pozzo’s statement on the human condition which has the most resonance: “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” Beckett’s characters wait in an endless, timeless stasis, doomed to repeat themselves day after day with even death out of reach. Sean Mathias‘s expert direction combined with the camaraderie and skill of the two leads make this production worth acquiring a ticket any way that you can.
- Colleen Patterson