“Why people have to complicate a thing so simple I can’t make out,” remarked Beckett on the multitude of different interpretations which sprang from his play. Perhaps so, but as this two-and-a-half hour whale swims interminably along, it’s difficult not to find its religious and sociological overtones a little tiresome. The fine cast does an admirable job of keeping us awake, and the lively and thoughtful direction is impressive in the confined space of the Burton Taylor, but there was a palpable sense of relief among the audience at the final curtain.
The plot barely needs mentioning; Vladimir and Estragon, two pitiful companions, wait in hope for Godot to appear. The pacing of the first act seriously drags, particularly the first twenty minutes or so; it’s the introduction of vile Pozzo barking orders at his slave Lucky which signals a much-needed injection of energy into the performance. The stagnancy of our introduction is remedied – suddenly the four are swinging around the stage in a balletic frenzy: this is where director Alex Foster’s decision to stage the play with the audience sitting in an inward-facing square really comes into its own. The cast hurtle from the outer corners of their space back to the middle, and out again – the choreography is remarkable and electrifying. The rope binding Lucky to Pozzo remains outstretched across this inner courtyard like an umbilical cord; it’s an interesting move to present the two, for all their abusive relationship, as mutually interdependent.
The production really finds its feet in the second act. The affection and frustration between Vladimir and Estragon feels much more sincere, and their relationship is much more moving as a result – the chemistry between Stratis Limnios and James Mooney, respectively, is genuine. We empathise with the former’s uncertainty and increasing madness just as we do with the latter’s laziness and amnesia. Any eyes starting to glaze over by the end of the first act are well and truly alert in the second, up to its stark and surprisingly bleak ending. Nevertheless, while the confines of the BT provide an appropriate proximity to the proceedings, it does not feel suited to a play of such length – the script could do with some significant cutting, as evidenced by the faces of more than one sweat-drenched actor by the end. The endless repetition of certain refrains – ‘waiting for Godot’, obviously, or that of memory and the past – while clearly the point of the play, really do start to grate before long. Frantic energy is replaced with awkward, stilted wordplay. Some lines seem to have been included purely for Beckett’s own malicious glee: ‘This is worse than being at the theatre.’ Well, indeed. There is plenty to enjoy in this production, if only you can stomach the slog to get to it.