Waiting for Godot

Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot is one of those plays that anyone who is interested in drama is sure that they have seen. I have seen it several times – notably in the TV production with Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen – a version directed by Beckett himself is available on YouTube. Last year was the 60th anniversary of its first performance.

Once again, the Arcola Theatre has put on a remarkable production. The set is grim: a pile of rubble with a foot sticking out of it, a leafless, damaged tree, water underfoot on the rough concrete floor; a flight of metal stairs and a pair of swinging doors. The audience sits on 3 sides of the ‘stage’ – but if you are trying to keep dry and clean, do not sit in the front row.

In other productions I have seen Vladimir (Gogo) and Estragon (Didi), played respectively by Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton, are played by older men. Here, they are both young and this somehow brings the play up to date. We are not told why they are in the ruinous heap of rubble, we only have a little information about how they came to be friends. Their relationship is obviously a symbiotic one – they need each other. The boredom and bleakness of their existence, their conditions of starvation, are brought into stark recognition by the scenery and by the performances of the main protagonists. The audience is drawn into the games they play to fight their boredom as they wait for Godot, who, of course, never comes.

Godot’s messenger – a waiflike creature with a Polish accent – appears twice. Is he the same person at the second appearance? He tells them that Godot will come the next day on both occasions. As boredom threatens to overcome them two characters appear: Lucky – a porter, played by Michael Roberts – and his evil master, Pozzo, played by Jonathan Oliver. Why do the characters go along with Pozzo’s wishes? Is it because they are bored? Scared? Want to take over from Lucky in order to eat? On the next day, Gogo cannot remember their visit, despite Didi’s prompting – then they appear again, but there is a twist here.

The performances, production and scenery are excellent. The audience is thrown from the very comic to the deeply sad in the blink of an eye. On the night I went there were some American drama students in the audience – one of whom had told me before the performance that she had had to see this for her course, although she did not like the play. At the end, she said she had changed her mind. Not only had she suddenly ‘got’ the play, but she was overwhelmed by the performances and by what she described as ‘the dedication’ of the actors, who had to roll around in mud and water for some of the play.

Once again, the Arcola Theatre is to be congratulated on a truly magnificent production. Funny and sad and intensely moving, I would highly recommend it.


Maria Way