REVIEW: Waiting for Godot

PUBLISHED: 12:12 15 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:11 07 September 2010

Samuel Beckett s groundbreaking play was originally performed in French and famously offers something of the Gallic cinema experience in that nothing happens – over quite a long time. In a metaphor for the human condition, two old tramps banter, argue, si

Samuel Beckett's groundbreaking play was originally performed in French and famously offers something of the Gallic cinema experience in that nothing happens - over quite a long time.

In a metaphor for the human condition, two old tramps banter, argue, sing and enact habitual routines to distract themselves from the awful pointlessness of living.

Director Sean Mathias lends quirky momentum to their routines by placing Vladimir and Estragon beneath a ruined proscenium arch and suggesting

a former partnership in a Vaudeville act.

When Simon Callow's red-faced ringmaster Pozzo orders Ronald Pickup's cadaverous Lucky to dance, it hits home that performance - including this one - is just another way to pass the time waiting for our own metaphorical Godots.

I've always found Ian McKellen a technically proficient but emotionally cold actor and his shambolic Estragon is all clownish tics and comedy business as he struggles in and out of his boots.

Yet there is a despairing, faraway look in his eyes that brings home the tramps' existential dilemma - whether or not to hang themselves from the tree forcing itself through the old stageboards.

Patrick Stewart is all understated dignity and quiet anguish as Vladimir. His terrible hope that Godot will come is somehow more affecting than Estragon's despair.

But the pair's touching relationship, suggesting decades of physical and emotional familiarity offers the play's only solace - that unlike Sartre's dictat, 'Hell is other people', human companionship - and the illusion of their appointed task - is all that keeps these two from the noose.

Despite the shimmer of glamour lent by the Gandalf/ Picard/X-Men X factor, the eventlessness of watching two men "bored to death" make this at times a hard watch.

But Stewart handles the closing moments with such

spine-chilling poetry that send you reeling into the night.

Until further notice.

WAITING FOR GODOT

Haymarket Theatre

near Piccadilly Circus

Four stars

Bridget Galton


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