June 8, 2015
Thankfully, neither the pointy ears of Elrond in the Lord of the Rings films nor the compulsion to self-replicate of Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy are in evidence here. In fact, Hugo Weaving’s face itself is scarcely on show, save for a few square inches emerging from behind a shortish yet impressively bushy beard. He plays Vladimir in the Sydney Theatre Company’s revival of Waiting for Godot at the Barbican Theatre, one of the flagship productions in the Barbican’s current Samuel Beckett season.
A complementary pairing of the tramps Vladimir and Estragon, desperately trying to pass the time as they wait for a benefactor who never arrives, is often a keynote of productions. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, X-Men rivals turned double-act, are probably the most famous recent example. In 1999 I saw a nicely judged northern/southern Irish couple. This latter is the kind of complementarity-through-difference which director Andrew Upton and his cast bring out. Weaving uses a comparatively posh Anglo-Australian accent as Didi, whereas Richard Roxburgh’s Gogo is far more audibly an Ocker. It works well with Beckett’s script: Estragon often seems much dimmer than the reflective Vladimir but here, while Didi still has the intellectual edge, he is regularly punctured by Gogo’s larrikin bluntness.
As with the McKellen/Stewart production, the pair are here located in the ruins of a building rather than unsheltered on a blasted heath; even the tree on Zsolt Khell’s set seems sturdier than usual and sprouts three whole leaves between the first and second acts. It has been a few years since Philip Quast’s last appearance on a British stage; here, his musical-theatre lungpower stands him in excellent stead as an appealingly bombastic Pozzo. Luke Mullins as Lucky is what my blessed mother would have called “a big drink of milk”, and I mean this as a compliment.
In 2013-14, Olwen Fouéré’s riverrun was a versatile solo presentation of material from James Joyce’sFinnegans Wake. Her immense control is shown in a clutch of performances, ending on June 8, of Beckett’sLessness (at the Barbican’s Frobisher Auditorium 2). Not so much a story as a detailed description of a snapshot, it captures a moment of simultaneous hope and despair. Miked up at a desk beneath a video screen in neutral to represent the grey sky, Fouéré gives every word of Beckett’s 60 sentences considered weight; scarcely lit herself, she turns a venue more normally used for business presentations into a space for meditation.
‘Waiting For Godot’ runs to June 13, barbican.org.uk