Waiting for Godot - at Malvern Festival Theatre
Two tramps wait by a tree, in an otherwise featureless landscape, to keep a business appointment with an unlikely-sounding benefactor. And wait, and wait, and wait...
Samuel Beckett’s tragi-comic allegory of the human condition has been perplexing audiences for more than half a century, yet it is one of those milestone works which is perhaps better known as a cultural benchmark than for living and breathing on the stage.
But now it is one of the theatre events of the year – launched here in Malvern – thanks to the dream casting of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the roles of Vladimir and Estragon. There is equally gold-plated support from Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup.
While it is indisputably bleak, any decent production should remind us that this play is also very funny. Vladimir and Estragon resemble a classic music hall comedy duo, and have often been compared to Laurel & Hardy.
Here I was reminded several times of Morecambe & Wise, and once or twice even suspected Eric Morecambe was a direct model for McKellen’s Estragon.
Countering Stewart’s desperate optimism with beautifully articulated Lancashire bluffness.
The two appearances of Pozzo and his slave Lucky bring the play’s most surreal episodes, and Simon Callow goes for broke in pumping up Pozzo into a grotesque, ageing and moustachioed Regency buck. Someone mentioned at the interval that they didn’t remember Pozzo from the last production they saw: they’ll remember this.
As Lucky, Pickup has only one speech, but it’s a famous one which brought him a spontaneous round of applause.
It will be surprising if Sean Mathias’s production doesn’t figure when awards are handed out at the end of the year.
One should go to Stephen Brimson Lewis for his set, which is frankly astonishing. He has constructed a bombed theatre, complete with ornate and burned-out boxes, with the tree growing through a hole in its wrecked stage.
Running time: Two hours, 35 minutes. Until Saturday (returns only).