November 18, 2013
Waiting for Godot @ Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay
Season ends July 10
There is an exchange in Waiting for Godot where the protagonists trade insults in an effort to kill their boredom. “Cretin,” says Vladimir after much back and forth. Estragon hits back with the coup de grace: “Critic.” Vladimir falls away clutching at his chest.
Watching Beckett’s revolutionary play, made afresh sixty years on in this rich production, the barb hit home for me. What can a lowly critic, even if he’s Sydney’s greatest, offer people after seeing this show besides a pathetic exhortation, “You must watch this play.”
But I have to justify the tickets that Sydney Outsider tossed my way, so here goes. As Vladimir says, “It’ll pass the time.”
I went to a preview of the play last week. Before the performance Andrew Upton addressed the audience. Upton had come off the bench when Hungarian director Tamas Ascher called in sick with a bad back (an excuse I’ve used many a time after a big night on the turps).
Upton warned that there may still be some hiccups after bringing the play out of the rehearsal room and begged our indulgence. He needn’t have bothered. If Hugo Weaving as Vladimir, Richard Roxburgh as Estragon, or Philip Quast and Luke Mullins as Pozzo and Lucky, dropped the ball their fumbles were missed by this referee.
We meet Vladimir and Estragon, or Didi and Gogo, on the crumbling edge of an industrial landscape blackened by smog. It could be any city in the world. And Estragon and Vladimir could be any two men in the world struggling to make sense of their existence, as they wait for Godot to offer them some sort of direction. [*SPOILER ALERT* He isn’t coming.]
Anyone who has read the play or seen a sub-par production might be wary about going to the STC’s production. The exchanges between Didi and Gogo can become confusing, tedious, or a mixture of both. Here well-tuned performances let Beckett’s words shine with all the wit they deserve. The physicality the players bring to their roles makes the characters all the more compelling. I was so enthralled I soon forgot the over-powering stench of perfume coming from the big lady next to me. I hope she forgot the stench of the booze that was oozing from my pores.
At the outset of the play I expected the tale of two men waiting for hours might not resonate with an audience more used to constant titillation and instant gratification. If anything Didi and Gogo’s anxiety at their predicament and need for distraction was shockingly relevant for a modern audience desperate to feel connected constantly – a couple of them so desperate they refused to turn off their mobiles until they rang loudly in the final scenes.
Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh make a brilliant double act and to see them on stage together, masterfully traversing the line between comedy and tragedy as they tussle with the big questions of life, felt like a privilege.
I’m sure there will be critics who find fault in the play and Upton’s direction. Misery guts will say it pulls for laughs too much, while clowns will complain it’s too dark. To those critics I offer another quote from the play, this time from Estragon: “People are bloody ignorant apes.”