“Is there any rope? Or a pair of boots? I’ve spotted a bowler hat. They’re all very important” my little sister points out to me as we take our seats at a front row table in the studio space at St James Theatre. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that despite being an English Literature graduate, I have never in fact read Waiting for Godot, or indeed any Beckett, and I’m largely unsure as to what I’ve let myself in to.
We find ourselves in a backstage dressing room containing everything from old frocks to a papier-mache pig, a malfunctioning ironing board and a toilet cubicle. We see two understudies, Val and Ester, waiting lest they should be needed to perform. From the way in which they interact, we get the impression that the prospect of them ever making it to the stage is just as abstract as the figure of Godot himself. The pared back and yet inherently cluttered environment provides a contrast to the opening scene of the play which this show slyly parodies.
The show’s premise is certainly an interesting one and there are some nice parallels between the loneliness and worries of an understudy, and the waiting of the characters in Beckett’s original. The familiar tropes of repetition, mirroring of language, phrases and body language, goes a long way to give both plays a similar trajectory. Particularly nice moments come when the language turns to quick fire interchanges and the rapport between the two actors is put to the test. Less comfortable moments include Simon Day’s Ester’s physical interpretation of a gorilla and the constant concern that he might expose himself in his rather bedraggled long johns.
There are some interesting musings on the theatre, acting and life in general including my favourite quote of the night “Acting is difficult, actors shouldn’t be”. The good thing about Waiting for Godot is that, as the criticism always goes, ‘nothing really happens’ which too can be said for this production. However the meta-theatrical charm and increasing confidence of the two leads makes this an enjoyable (and infinitely less frustrating than Beckett’s original) evening nonetheless.
Waiting for Waiting for Godot, by Dave Hanson, directed by Mark Bell. St James’ Theatre Studio London. Until 24th September 2016.