Review: Waiting for Godot, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
This is the first time that I’ve awarded all five of my closely guarded stars to a production. But I can honestly say, without a shadow of doubt, that this performance is worth it.
Waiting for Godot is one of the world’s most performed plays and, arguably, one of the most difficult to get right. It’s a surreal mixture of laughs and desperation which, done badly, would result in a non-plussed, stony-faced audience.
This was my first time seeing Samuel Beckett’s classic. Although I knew of it – and had a rough idea of the plot – I was completely unprepared for the upcoming range of emotions. I was enthralled right from the start as the two drifters, Estragon and Vladimir, and their odd, mad, desperate existence set me fast in my seat, transfixed.
Colin Conner and David Fielder excel in their roles. It’s clear that every step, every trip, every scream into the abyss that constitutes a life without purpose has been rehearsed and contemplated. Every hands-in-pockets shuffle, every footfall has been acutely and thoroughly examined so that the show has no holes. It’s a real production in that there’s no sanitising of drool (there is an enormous amount of drool), no play-acting at homelessness. There’s no glibness, and while it’s not exactly serious (quite the opposite, in fact), it doesn’t mock the characters or their situation.
The plot line centres on fantasy and the development of a fictional narrative to cope with the daily fear of there being nothing to do, and that daily fear is the real, terrifying cliff top on which the play rocks crazily back and forth. Just when you think you understand the motives, needs and desires of the characters, you’re shocked anew and thrown out of your assumptions – as is the case when Lucky and Pozzo arrive, played with incredible strength and finesse by Chris Bianchi and John Stahl. They are the shocking, wonderful texture against the grindingly repetitive life of the sweet, strange friends Estragon and Vladimir.
Lucky appears like a horrifying apparition. I was reminded of the ghosts of Christmas past from A Christmas Carol, their arrival so strange and frightening, but also funny. The silences, the booming voices, the hanging tree, the fear and desperation all swirl around the small, bare stage, round and round, catching the audience and almost drowning them, before pushing them to the surface, gasping, to make them laugh.
And all the time, Godot, with his boys and his farm and his puppet-mastering of reality and fantasy lives on. His golden sunrise is always about to happen as the sun sets like a guillotine across each day.
I was stuck to my seat. I usually start to twitch long before the interval, trying to check my watch without it being obvious, but not this time. I was impressed with the use of music too. Atmospheric music in a play seems counterproductive, but again, not here. It added to the oddly A Midsummer Night’s Dream/Alice in Wonderland feel of the play.
As a Scarborian, I love that they used local child actors for the role of the boy, and I feel awful that I can’t remember the name of the lad who played him, even though I was told his name specifically, but he was great. It takes guts to be shouted at on stage and remain in character. I’d have cried. This felt like proper, clever, incredible theatre and will almost certainly be my show of the year.
As always, I can’t fault Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. Its staff are some of the most helpful I have come across and the venue is beautiful – a real jewel in the Scarborough crown. I do hope Tobacco Factory Theatres returns.
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