Waiting for Godot ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Waiting for Godot

Today's Australian review of the touring production of Theatre Royal Haymarket's Waiting for Godot is now online. With apologies for some odd grammar, not all of which is mine. (Of course evening arrives before nightfall...)

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is it a quote thing from the play - nightfall and evening?

Otherwise someone was subbing drunk.

Alison Croggon said...

No, it's not from the play. My review read "Beckett’s tramps Vladimir (Roger Rees) and Estragon (Ian McKellen) meet every evening at a roadside to wait for Godot – or nightfall, depending which comes first." Somehow it got scrambled in translation, and now it looks like I was tired and emotional. On a Monday morning, too!

Anonymous said...

Sheesh. Baby sentences from now on.

Alison Croggon said...

On the other hand, I might have confused a few people by assuming the difference between evening and nightfall. In which case, it's Beckett's fault.

Tobias Manderson-Galvin said...

" a star vehicle " ?
Alison I must tell you I went to opening night of Godot in Melbourne with a similar attitude to you- having seen the posters in London with Patrick Stewart etc I was a little disappointed that Australia was getting a 'B' cast.
However these fears were quickly cast aside by the outstanding performances given by the likes of Rees and co (certainly a star in his own right i think most recently he was in west wing)
I guess if you wanted to see another cast and given the medias attention on McKellen it's no wonder that his performance was what you saw as being the most obvious part of the production.
In talks with those I went with we found that there was not a player who stood out from the cast - a fact we found delightful - a credit to all. This was merely how we saw it.
Hey on another note; i'm not so sure about your claim they overplayed the comic either; i found the first pozzo scene to be grating and horrifying (i loved it don't get me wrong); i guess what i'm saying is I felt that as opposed to the comic being played up too much or too little or whatever; i sort of felt that the slide into the more somber moments of the second act seemed, well, sort of out of place when put beside the hijinks and the horror and the slapstick of the rest of the play. Still that's really your man Beckett's doing isn't it?
PS i love the encore bow. ;) How'd that go for you? too comic? :) tobias.

Alison Croggon said...

You didn't think it was a star vehicle? I doubt that you'd have got a theatre full of people paying $130 without McKellen's name on the credits...

I wasn't so taken with Rees's performance, which was creditable but no knock-out. McKellen's was definitely the stand-out, and I enjoyed his performance immensely. I liked O'Hea's Lucky (and also noticed his speech was the occasion for one of McKellen's more outrageous focus pulling - a showy yawn upstage during his speech).

As for the comedy: I think Beckett is funny without extra schtick. And the extra schtick does obscure other qualities in his work that are equally important. A fine example of getting the balance right was Eleventh Hour's Endgame, with Peter Houghton and David Trendinnick.

Alison Croggon said...

PS I wasn't at the opening night performance.

Tobias Manderson-Galvin said...

Hahaha. Good one.
Ah I wish i'd seen that Endgame only seem to hear good things about those guys.
You know what you're right that yawn was outrageous wasn't it! Yes i suppose there were a few of those.
So like you're right about people paying 130 to see mckellen and not so much to see Godot itself. I wonder what it's like for the non-McKellen members of the cast: like gosh it must be hard doing a show when you are aware that the audience is there for one person in particular. Can't make it any easier. Hmm.
Alison! The bows? The bows!!! Haha- I guess I'm a sucker for schtick. I could've had a song at the end if they'd wanted- probably would've been in form with the production.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should have mentioned the OUTRAGEOUS ticket price.

Are we that bewitched by Gandalf?

Beckett would swivel in his grave.

Alison Croggon said...

Er... I did mention the ticket price (above). And yes, obviously, Gandalf has a fan club. I still can't get too exercised about a bunch of people seeing Beckett who wouldn't normally dream of going: maybe they'll think about seeing another if they enjoyed this one. And it's not as if the production actually traduces the play.

Anonymous said...

Right. Sorry. What you said.

Anonymous said...

The pleasures of being an award-winning freelancer: I'd have been shot for remarking publicly upon unattractive changes to my copy.

Alison Croggon said...

Ha! Well, as a well-trained journalist (and I was trained well, in an old-fashioned school) I know no one is indispensable. But I'm not the only freelancer who occasionally gives a small yelp of pain. I've yet to see a sub with a gun...

Laurence Strangio said...

Oh my, the encore bows (as in curtain call)?! Enough I say! Sadly they said it all to me - Flanagan & Allen, a soft shoe shuffle, a couple of hats tossed on from the wings just when we thought (or hoped) it was all over: this is Beckett served up as sentiment. Given the recent media hype about Sir Ian McKellen being mistaken for a homeless tramp on the streets of Melbourne there is precious little real humanity in this production. I feel the comic utterly overwhelmed the tragic in this 'tragicomedy' and given the Beckett Estate's notorious resistance to interpolations (remember the fuss about Neil Armfield's Belvoir St Godot?) i was amazed at the fussiness of things like the overt sound design (drum rolls, heavenly choirs, ominous rumbles as Sir Ian, sorry, Estragon crawls over the back wall at the start) and lighting effects (ethereal light through the stage door at back as the Boy pops up from the stage). All of these, along with other stage 'business' (hat gags, yawns and other japes) replaced the meticulously crafted actual business of waiting in Beckett's play and like you said, Beckett is funny without extra schtick. I agree that while the production doesn't actually traduce the play, it does reduce it. Many of the more horrific or tragic moments are either glossed over or just plain missed. Sitting between my own Vladimir & Boy (the venerable John Flaus & my son Felix) from my version last year at La Mama, I could palpably feel with them as moments of true depth passed by unregistered although never a chance was missed for a gag or joke. Pozzo was far from terrifying at any point (one wonders whether Callow's performance might have been) and Lucky's speech only built in it's final few moments rather than threatening to take over the stage (and there was plenty of stage to take over) or even the show as it should. Even Lucky's dance was a weird little overdone ballet (although I understand it was much simpler on the preview night!?). Most confusing of all to me was the sprightliness of these old music-hall tramps, sitting cross-legged with ease and with fast and fancy footwork when it suited them, yet Estragon still complains about his boots and feet and Vladimir about his prostate (and let's not forget the soft-shoe encore - if only we could). Go figure!? This may all sound like the complaint of a Beckett purist but certainly isn't. I'm all in favour of reinventing Beckett, but in the service of the play and it's ideas please. I like the idea of the show being set in the theatre - the references abound in the play - and our own production at La Mama was as well (some strange synchronicity last year). Nor am i against the humour in the work being highlighted. I'd just rather that it was the actual humour of the piece not interpolated gags and also that the terror, the tragedy and the humanity of the work are also allowed to shine through. As for it being a star vehicle - what else did we expect? I suppose I hoped that it wouldn't be just that. As Vladimir says: " 'Hope deferred maketh the something sick.' Who said that?" Or in Estragon's opening line: "Nothing to be done."

Alison Croggon said...

To be fair, the hat gags are Beckett's. I agree that the production sentimentalised the play, although not as much as I feared. Cameron's review in the Age certainly indicates that: "In this case, Beckett's nothings are sweet nothings". I really didn't think it was that bad.

Goldele said...

I think we are of one mind on this one Alison! I wrote a shorter, similar review for samesame.com.au....Just love Sir Ian! Sigh why can't all actors do that...is certaily a special gift!

Molly said...

I am suspicious of anyone who disses a production by comparing it to their own...

Rees was good at capturing that headlong tumble when a laugh becomes a cry of anguish, it was only at the end that he went a bit 'RADA' on the audience. McKellan was great, and I was happy they kept Lucky's speech, as I've heard they sometimes cut it.

The 11th hour Endgame was definitely the best Beckett production I have ever seen, almost perfect except for that bloody violinist!

Lyn said...

I also enjoyed McKellen's performance, but thought the La Mama staging and characters last year were much more powerful than this one. I think this is a play that is better in a small space.

Hugh said...

Just got home from tonight's production and I agree entirely with Mr. Strangio's observations (does it really mean more coming from someone who wasn't involved in a 'rival' production of the play?)


Godot isn't my favourite Beckett play, but it has that elusiveness that's present in all of his best works. It's kind of like a Rorschach test for the audience/reader - how you respond to it says as much if not more about you than it does about the play. What i disliked about this production was that it removed that quality from the work. There seemed to be only one way to engage with this work; i wasn't sitting in the audience pondering the meaning of what was going on, just enjoying the 'zany antics' of a couple of hapless clowns. Maybe it's a personal failing and not that of the production (although i've responded differently to other versions i've seen) but i did feel like I - and the rest of the audience - was let off the hook too much by this staging.

I wouldn't complain so much, but 150 bucks is a lot for a student.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks, Hugh and Lyn. I couldn't get to the La Mama production, but I wholly agree that there's more to this play than was on show. To be frank, if I hadn't had to review this production, I wouldn't have chased it up: I couldn't see from how it was being marketed that it would much more than jolly japes. In the event, it was better than I expected, but you're better off seeing Beckett in the smaller venues around town.

Anonymous said...

To be fair this is not a 'B' cast. The only cast member who is different from the return season in London earlier this year is Brendan O'Hea who took over Ronald Pickup as 'Lucky'. Between them all they've been nominated for Emmy and Oscar Awards and received Tony and Olivier Awards.