Reviews: Waiting for Godot & What Goes Around (Sunday Herald)

THEATRE REVIEWS

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Waiting For Godot

ROYAL LYCEUM,

EDINBURGH

Until October 10

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What Goes Around

SEEN AT TRON THEATRE, GLASGOW

Touring until October 8

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Reviewed by Mark Brown

Bill Paterson and Brian Cox in Waiting for Godot. Photo: Alan McCredie
Bill Paterson and Brian Cox in Waiting for Godot. Photo: Alan McCredie

Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its company in style. First came the exciting announcement that leading dramatist David Greig is to be its next artistic director, and now this superb production of Waiting For Godot.

Greig will inherit a company which has, since 2003, charted a strong and steady course, and enjoyed a remarkable late flourish, under out-going artistic director Mark Thomson. It is worth noting that, arguably, the two finest productions of Thomson’s tenure have been Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search Of An Author (2008) and Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (earlier this year). This Godot confirms me in my opinion that Thomson has a particular talent for European Modernism.

It’s hard to imagine a better Scottish cast for Beckett’s most famous play than Brian Cox (Vladimir), Bill Paterson (Estragon), John Bett (Pozzo) and Benny Young (Lucky). By turns clownish, mordantly hilarious, bleakly sympathetic and profoundly articulate, they are, as Estragon says of the prone and blind Pozzo, “all humanity”.

The world inhabited by Cox and Paterson’s hapless tramps is, in Michael Taylor’s extraordinary stage design, like a desolate chalk mine. A steep incline leads to a solid, white horizon, its enclosing capacity emphasised by the two doorways on either side of the stage.

We often think of the co-dependent Didi (Vladimir) and Gogo (Estragon) almost as two sides of the same character. It is refreshing to see the differences between them accentuated, as they are here.

Cox’s Didi plays the humorously bustling optimist to Paterson’s defiantly lugubrious Gogo. They are, in their contrasting moods and affecting pathos, a compelling double act. Beckett, one suspects, would have approved.

The tramps’ existentialist ramblings are interrupted by Bett’s wonderfully aristocratic Pozzo and Young, appropriately inscrutable as his bag carrying slave Lucky. The latter’s monologue, a great torrent of human experience uttered when he is commanded to speak, is, to my mind, one of the finest speeches in 20th-century theatre. Young delivers it as it should be, with purposeful rhythm and poetic meaning.

One should leave a good production of Godot feeling that one has seen this beautiful and abundant tragi-comedy afresh. The Lyceum’s presentation achieves this, both in style and substance.

From a classic to a new play, Liz Lochhead’s What Goes Around, that is based, liberally, on a classic. It isn’t difficult to see what attracted our Makar to La Ronde, Arthur Schnitzler’s satire on sexual and class relations in late-19th century Austria. The play carries the same kind of biting social commentary as the works of Moliere, which Lochhead has adapted often and with great success.

Her new piece, which is directed for Cumbernauld Theatre by Tony Cownie, plays on the circularity of Schnitzler’s drama. Not only do the sexual infidelities of 10 characters form a perfect circle, as they do in the Austrian play, but the chain of events is touched off, by an experienced, middle-class actor and a young, working-class actress, during rehearsals of La Ronde.

All 10 characters, which include the actress’s lovelorn landlord and the actor’s outraged, professional wife, are played brilliantly by Keith Fleming and Nicola Roy. However, although it is an often funny sex comedy, Lochhead’s play lacks the political punch of Schnitzler’s original.

Recent allegations about the youthful high jinks of the Prime Minister and fellow initiates of the Piers Gaveston Society remind us that  it would have been nice to see the adaptation spiral, as Schnitzler’s play does, into the upper echelons of society. Sadly, however, Lochhead’s comedy (which is performed on Neil Murray’s appropriately drab, but frustratingly dull, rehearsal room set) never takes a swipe at the truly rich and powerful.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on September 27, 2015

© Mark Brown

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