Waiting For Godot

Posted on: 26 May 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Sean Mathias’ starry revival of Samuel Beckett’s existential drama Waiting For Godot at the Theatre Royal in Haymarket.


You would think a play about the futility of existence would be profoundly depressing but you would be wrong for in Sean Mathias’ starry revival of Samuel Beckett’s existential drama Waiting For Godot (Theatre Royal, Haymarket) the emphasis is on comedy rather than tragedy.

This is a play where nothing happens – there is no storyline as such and the characters have no past and no future, yet it has become a modern classic which more than a century after its premier remains as mysterious as ever.

Two tramps in bowler hats and worn out suits meet every day by a withered tree amidst a landscape of rubble and destroyed buildings although it is suggested this might be in a disused theatre.

Apparently they have known each other for 50 years but now fill their days arguing and chatting about nothing in particular while waiting for an absent character called Godot who never appears. One day they are joined by a man dressed as a circus ringmaster pulling his ‘slave’ with a length of rope and he proceeds to humiliate him, despite the protestations of the tramps. But is this not another example of the wretchedness of man’s conditions and is there nothing that can be done to improve the situation?

Mathis acknowledges that this absurdist, impenetrable play can be hard going and risks losing the attention spans of an audience so his production is light hearted rather than gloomy, with the focus on human relationships rather than the bleak situation and vaudeville comedy replacing heavy handed drama. 

This approach works by and large although at nearly three hours there are the inevitable longeurs. Fortunately Mathias has conscripted two of our most distinguished actors – Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen who bring just the right blend of gravitas, humility and cynical world weariness to the roles of the two protagonists.

This is a truly accessible Godot that says as much about hope and despair and what the powerful can do to an individual as when it was first staged.

By Laurence Green

Where: Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London

Box Office: 0845 481 1870

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