Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
I'm loving being offered the chance to review theatre in my part of Surrey, through the online news magazine Essential Surrey. This week it was a production by the local drama group Guilburys of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot", at the Electric Theatre An ambitious choice, and the first time a production of the play has been seen in Guildford for fifteen years, I'm told.
This was my review, now up on Essential Surrey's "What's on" page.
Don’t wait! Go to see the Electric Theatre’s brilliant production of this classic Beckett play. Angst? Absurdist? Existentialist? You can put labels on it, but the fact is that Beckett stares into the abyss that’s human existence – and laughs! And we laugh with him.
So here’s the plot: two tramps, Estragon (“Gogo”) and Vladimir (“Didi”), are hanging about in a barren landscape with one dead-looking tree and a blank sky, discussing why they’re there, whether they should move on, and (much of the time) bickering as old friends or married couples do. They would like to leave, but they’ve promised they’ll wait for Godot. But the only other people who pass by are a strange pair of men, Pozzo and his slave Lucky. And, as one critic of the play famously said “nothing happens, twice”. But actually, quite a lot happens.
The banter between Didi (Dave Ufton) and Gogo (Tim Brown) is brilliantly handled by both. Tim Brown is a charming Gogo with a goldfish memory, who lives only in the moment. His sulky obedience to his more prosaic friend’s insistence that they go on waiting, and his obsession with his boots, give him the air of a child on a long journey asking “Are we there yet?”
Phill Griffin as Pozzo delivers a masterly performance, part aristocrat, part military leader, part circus ringmaster, arrogant, power-obsessed, narcissistic, brutal, frightening and funny all at once. His manic presence makes the tramps’ behaviour and conversation look sane and humane by contrast. Tom Kent as Lucky, Pozzo’s inappropriately named slave, in sad clown dress, unusually performs the important “thinking” speech with bravura and eloquence, which only turns to madness as he is tackled and silenced by Gogo and Didi.
The power relationships among the characters are handled by Oli Bruce the director with tremendous humour and much slapstick. This and the banter between the tramps reminds us of the best of Laurel and Hardy, while Pozzo’s aristocratic drawl is reminiscent of Terry Thomas of “Carry On” fame. It really works.
In this classic absurdist play, time, space and human relationships are fluid and ambiguous. As Vladimir says, who knows whether anything we remember really happened, or if we are all dreams ourselves? Becket offers no answers. All we can do is amuse ourselves while we wait for Godot.