Waiting for Godot

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'Waiting for Godot' 'Waiting for Godot' - © Sasha Gusov

Time Out says  

Posted: Wed Jul 29 2009

This big Beckett revival has three stars - Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Simon Callow. But they're allowed to twinkle too brightly in Sean Mathias's ba-boom-cha production, which cosies up to the broken bones of Beckett's absurdist classic with music hall shuffles and even the odd cymbal crash on the punchlines. Many 'Godot' productions have clowned around with the vaudeville aspect of Beckett's existential tramps, Didi and Gogo. And Mathias's suggestion that Stewart and McKellen are a double act fallen on hard times fits their patter, their prostate-related comedy and their threadbare pathos like a well-worn bowler hat. Of the two, McKellen, wildly bearded and barefoot, touching and paranoid, makes the more piteously convincing tramp. He is as baffled as the audience about why he and his pushier other half, Didi (Stewart), must wait by a tree for Godot, who never comes. Stewart, one of the best Shakespearean villains in the business, lacks the vulnerability needed to play the little man: too often you see Patrick Stewart playing Patrick Stewart doing Beckett.

Everyman is lost in showbiz in Mathias's sometimes hammy production, which lets Beckett's bleak and moving play become a luvvied-up tribute to the theatre rather than a theatrical metaphor for the human condition. It would benefit from de-thespification. Even the set tips the audience a wink - some grey and crumbling versions of the Haymarket's boxes mirror the auditorium on the other side of the invisible 'fourth wall' that separates us from the actors.

Jokes can only go so far to 'pass the time' in Beckett's 55-year-old play in which, famously, nothing happens - twice. Stewart and McKellen fans can delight in the ease and affection with which the old entertainers slip into their hat-swapping, bickering routines. Simon Callow as Pozzo - the slave-driver who whips his servant (Ronald Pickup's Lucky) on stage with a rope round his neck and returns, blinded, for more in the second act - finds moments of bleak power beneath his brick-red gouty face paint. But Beckett's play is most unnervingly riveting when you're waiting for tragedy rather than for the next laugh. A sadder production might have been a wiser one.

Haymarket Theatre Royal details

Haymarket Theatre Royal, 18 Suffolk St, SW1Y 4HT

Haymarket Theatre Royal

Unlike its West End peers, Theatre Royal Haymarket's repertoire trips along at quite pace. Record-breaking musicals and long-running classics are...

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