Review: Waiting For Godot at the Smock Alley Theatre
The last Godot I saw was a disappointingly sanitised version from Gare St. Lazare Players. This production from Patrick Sutton offers a bold and refreshing contrast.
It simply seethes with an energy that perhaps runs counter to the downbeat struggle of the two tramps Vladimir and Estragon with the futility of existence. But, at the same time, it sheds new light on a work many of us are perhaps over-familiar with, throwing things previously unnoticed into relief.
Sutton's production of the play in which "nothing happens" seems longer than usual. But this is because every detail is thoroughly fleshed-out, every drop of bleak portent wrung from each word, phrase, and situation. Even Godot's messenger boy isn't wasted. An angelic voiced child, he reappears near the play's end to tell the tramps that Godot isn't coming, again. Asked by a tremulously keyed-up Vladimir what Godot does, the boy answers "nothing." Just like Vladimir and Estragon themselves. Perhaps then, Godot is waiting too?
Much of the production's nervous energy is centred in Charlie Hughes' Vladimir. While Estragon has largely given up any hope of finding meaning in their monotonously hopeless situation, Vladimir clings feverishly to whatever might endow their purgatorial existence with reality, memory above all. No effort is spared in trying to beat remembrance of yesterday's events into Estragon's short-term skull, or convincing him that they've been tied together for half a century.
Hughes renders a superbly sustained, highly physically expressive performance of this stubbornly un-foundering nervous wreck of a tramp who's also capable of moments of poignant self-questioning which encompass the whole grim brutality of our mortal condition.
Donal Courtney's Estragon is the perfect foil for Vladimir's seriousness, a perhaps wise buffoon, far more concerned with the state of his boots than the state of humanity. Constantly craving distraction, his indulgence in whatever turns up generates much of the laughter in the play's self-consciously low comedy.
Pozzo and his slave Lucky provoke large chunks of this. Ronan Dempsey's Pozzo, though over-mannered and frenetic is captivating, as is Simon Stewart's Lucky, chilling and then explosively parodic when his 'thinking cap' is on.
Ellen Kirk's costuming has to be commended. The tramps, for once, really look like tramps, tattered and filthy, their jackets as full of holes as cheese-graters.