WAITING FOR GODOT
ROYAL LYCEUM, EDINBURGH
Reviewed by Mark Brown
When Samuel Beckett’s existentialist masterpiece Waiting for Godot had its English-language premiere, at the Arts Theatre, London, in 1955, the critic Kenneth Tynan famously compared it to a “pilgrim from Mars”. In the 60 years since, this once alien drama, with its philosophical tramps Estragon and Vladimir, has become a familiar friend to much of the theatre going public.
For those who have not seen it before, Godot’s defiance of dramatic conventions still has a remarkable ability to surprise. For the rest of us, the pleasure lies in the capacity of a good director and a talented cast to draw something fresh from the fertile depths of Beckett’s opus.
The omens were good for this Royal Lyceum production. It opens the 50th anniversary season of the Edinburgh company and begins the final season of its acclaimed artistic director Mark Thomson.
The director will take his leave of the Edinburgh playhouse next year, after 13 years in the job. His production boasts a stellar cast, led by two of Scotland’s finest actors, Bill Paterson (Estragon, aka Gogo) and Brian Cox (Vladimir, or Didi).
The duo makes for a contemplative, emotive and often sardonically humorous double act. They bring to the tramps a greater moral weight than we often see; Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (for the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 2009), for example, were noticeably lighter of foot.
Rarely do we see the differences between Gogo and Didi expressed so emphatically. Paterson’s Gogo is positively melancholic, frustrated almost beyond endurance by the infernal wait for the elusive Godot.
Cox, by contrast, is, in Didi’s more optimistic moments, like a cross between Oliver Hardy and a counsellor for the Samaritans. Together, they articulate the play’s humanism with rewarding profundity.
If Paterson and Cox impress, so does the casting of fellow veterans John Bett (a splendidly posh Pozzo) and Benny Young (Lucky, meaningfully rhythmic in his great monologue).
Michael Taylor’s set, a white curved wall with apertures to either side of the stage, is the best I have seen in more than 25 years of Godots. Suggesting both detention and void, caking the unfortunate characters in off-white mud, it is a thing of symbolically infertile beauty.
This major anniversary for the Lyceum company demanded a major Godot. This splendid production ensures that it has one.
Until October 10. For more information, visit: lyceum.org.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on September 23, 2015
© Mark Brown