June 8, 2015
Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆
Towards the end of Plato’s Symposium, when the speeches in praise of love have ended and the night’s real activity — heavy, heavy drinking — has begun, Socrates, who it is said could drink all of Athens under the table, argues that he who writes the best comedy writes the best tragedy, and vice versa. Sadly, we don’t know why: poor Aristodemus, our fly-on-the-wall, gets too drunk and falls asleep.
Beckett’s subtitle for the English version of Godot was “A tragicomedy in two acts”. In the text, the play is full of lines whose full meaning rely on the tension between their humour and their sadness, both of which rely on one another. When turning a play from a text to a production, there are decisions to be made; through timing, tone and cadence, spoken words imply an interpretation. In his Sydney Theatre Company production of the play, showing until 13 June as part of the Barbican’s International Beckett season, director Andrew Upton has chosen to accentuate the latter half of Beckett’s conjunction. The result is riotous, hilarious — and somewhat lightweight. Without the tragedy, the laughs (of which there are many) are just a little too comfortable. Of course, Godot is a play full of laughter, but it ought to catch in our throats.
Accentuating the play’s comic aspects isn’t without its upsides: the physical humour, especially from Philip Quast and Luke Mullins as Pozzo and Lucky, is breathtaking. And Hugo Weaving holds fort as Vladimir, playing him with a lithe, picaresque grace. However, Richard Roxburgh is a sketchy Estragon, delivering his lines in a broad and oafish manner, and missing the character’s impotent rage.
The real hero here is Zsolt Khell, the set designer. Beckett’s directions don’t give a set designer much to go on, but Khell has done an admirable job in creating a minimalist set with a gorgeous, monochrome sheen. And while it sounds a little heavy handed, I liked the decision to set the play amid the rubble of a ruined theatre.
In the end, it isn’t all laughs. In the second act the play finds its stride, and the horror almost becomes palpable. But a great production would give us both at once. After all, as Socrates claimed and Beckett proved, comedy and tragedy aren’t separate arts.
By Will Rees @williamrees0