Waiting for Godot

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

18/08/2011 - 28/08/2011

Production Details

The first New Zealand production of Waiting for Godot was directed by Patric Carey in 1959. Two years later, Patric and his wife Rosalie converted their house at 104 London Street into what has become Dunedin’s iconic Globe Theatre.

As part of our celebrations of the Globe’s first 50 years, we are delighted to be staging another production of Beckett’s much loved comedy about… Waiting…and the meaning of life.

Two men, scruffy but dignified, meet in a deserted, desolate environment, sit, wait and talk while waiting (for a man called Godot). Two other men, equally scruffy but much less dignified arrive, leave, return and leave again. A Boy arrives with news that Godot cannot come today; he too leaves and may (or may not) arrive again.

The waiting seems endless, the mood increasingly bleak but, paradoxically, this is a comedy, a black and even cruel comedy in the best Chaplinesque manner – and a theatrical experience that will stay in the memory long after the ‘waiters’ have departed.  

Estragon:  Harry Love
Vladimir: John Watson
Pozzo: Jimmy Currin
Lucky: Jerome Cousins
Boy: Liam Johnston 

Set design and construction: Martyn Roberts 
Lighting design: Martyn Roberts 
Stage management: Cynthia Wun 
Lighting operation: Cynthia Wun 
Wardrobe: Rachael McCann & Sofie Welvaert 
Poster design: Kathryn Madill  
Photography: Gerard O'Brian and Sofie Welvaert  


Enthusiasm for staging of Beckett

Review by Barbara Frame 28th Aug 2011

This is the Globe’s fourth production of Waiting for Godot and, not having seen any of the others I’m unable to compare. But I can tell you that this latest production of Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, directed by Richard Huber, is superb.

John Watson and Harry Love have been acting together for years. Taking on the parts of Vladimir and Estragon, the shabbily dignified men to whom trusting but despairing waiting gives some kind of meaning to purposeless, insignificant lives, seems a natural progression for both of them. Watson’s Vladimir carries traces of an educated urbanity, whereas Love’s Estragon is more belligerently plebeian. They share tenacity, wobbly courage and something like devotion to each other. Watson’s and Love’s experience shows in their rapport, precise timing and controlled calibration of the play’s many comic moments.

Jimmy Currin has huge impact as the large, loud, brutal Pozzo, who claims to own the land on which they are all standing. As Pozzo’s servant Lucky, who has been cruelly tormented into contributing to his own oppression, Jerome Cousins appears convincingly closer to expiration with every passing moment. Liam Johnston completes the cast with an excellent performance of either one or two boys.

As well as the tree which is an essential part of the play, Martyn Roberts’ set features garage-style shelving filled with assorted junk – the detritus, perhaps, or an earlier and more stable and purposeful past.

Brilliantly negotiating the risky path between absurd optimism and bleak despair, Huber’s production deserves to be seen by as many people as can possibly fit into the Globe’s limited space. The season will run until 28 August and, if the size and enthusiasm of Friday night’s audience are anything to go by, bookings are advisable. 
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Debating meanings, interpretations and staging conventions

Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 25th Aug 2011

Unhappy with the many different productions of his famously uneventful play, Waiting for Godot, author Samuel Beckett directed and then had filmed his own version of the work in 1987. This did not stop new interpretations being ventured. The Gate Theatre Company’s more recent screen production – part of their exhaustively complete Beckett On Film project – has indeed come to be seen by many as the definitive interpretation of Godot, right down to its use of Irish accents (which, being performed in French, were absent in the 1953 original). Both of these versions are readily available on YouTube and elsewhere (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7_g52JrshE&feature=related ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDjgThErfIM&feature=related ).

It is also worth recalling that Beckett is one of theatre’s great minimalists. His works are typically short, little is said, and his ‘dialogue’ (if that is what it is) consists of fragments, paralinguistic errors and puns, and other details. Beckett was infamous for ensuring that nothing more than what he recorded on the page was included in his productions, famously withdrawing all performance rights in Holland for 1 year after a company, against his wishes, staged Godot with female actors.

That said, Beckett’s work has, by and large, been tamed. His bleak musing on the inability of language to say or mean anything, and therefore of our own inability to develop a rich psychic or spiritual life from our conversations or experiences, has been replaced by a tendency to see Godot as little more than a bleak comedy; a dark vision, to be sure, since Godot never comes, and the two tramps who await him are thus doomed to an eternity of suffering on the stage which they so self-consciously act upon, but still more of a somewhat thought provoking joke rather than a radical assault on speech, language, literature and theatre. 

Huber’s production, commissioned by Dunedin institution The Globe Theatre for their 50th birthday celebrations (and marking 52 years since Globe founder Patric Carey directed the NZ premiere in Dunedin and 45 years since he re-directed it for the Globe), is more in the spirit of the former. Its pleasures, and they are substantial indeed, is in watching two of New Zealand’s most charismatic actors play, gamble, bitch and moan about life in a light-heartedly depressing way.  

I could have listened all night to John Watson’s imploringly campy lilt, as his character of Didi tries to find the positive in their situation. He is perfectly partnered by the sour frowning visage and more basso profondo tones of Harry Love as Gogo. The younger Jerome Cousins handles very well the role of a by-passer’s slave – the hapless Lucky – drooping under the weight of his bags, staring crazily, and then delivering the wonderful confusion of logic and madness that is his one enunciation in the play, Lucky’s Speech. 

Where this production is less satisfying then is not so much in any failures, but in some of the more challenging aspects of what this play presents which have not been fully addressed.

Firstly, to perform Godot is rather like performing Hamlet. As I have noted above, the weight of previous productions, mounds of critical commentary, considerable dramaturgical debate, and a number of readily available precedents to which the work might be compared, can at times crush the artist.

Huber has certainly considered the bleak, quasi-nihilistic implications of the play and left them present, as well as the manner in which the game-play of the characters causes them to resemble vaudevillian clowns and patter-men (“I say, I say, I say”). He has also, in the person of Gogo, chosen to follow The Gate Theatre in suggesting that at least one of these characters must be Irish, and hence the bleak world view and love of blarney has its roots in national identity. On this point, myself and many other critics would not agree, but so be it. 

Beyond this though, relatively little engagement with these debates about interpretation and meaning seem to have been addressed. The interloper to Gogo’s and Didi’s world, the pompous wanderer Pozzo who arrives halfway into first Act I then Act II, provides the only significant divergence from extant approaches. Indeed, Jimmy Currin’s Pozzo often seems to be coming from a different play, or maybe even a different world. He drops into and out of every accent imaginable, from drunken slur to high English, and back again, with visible and deliberately unreal affectation.

One never gets the impression Pozzo is a character in any real sense. Instead he comes across as across as a kind of collective acid-trip or hallucination dropped in from outer space. Currin’s truly bizarre costume of a piratical hat and fake moustache in Act I, and a hippy Buddha like visage in Act II, means that his theatrical precedents owe more to 1960s counter culture and the exploration of trickster figures in those works, than he does to Beckett’s universe. 

This is great fun, and adds a kind of critical hand-grenade into the mix, detonating any other overall readings, but it also simultaneously serves to highlight the general lack of attention to detail and coherence in the production. Why, for example, does Pozzo wear a white coat covered with newsprint? Why is his vitamiser mimed, when every other prop referred to is not? No reason emerges, because one suspects no one considered how these elements read together. In either case, the lack of an actual costume designer shows in other neglected details, such as the extremely good condition of Watson’s coat – despite his claim that he and Gogo now apparently look so destitute they would not even be allowed up the Eifel Tower – and so on. 

The same is true of Martyn Robert’s set design, which is attractive and well lit. The rear of the space is lined with a profusion of items in order to suggest a back-stage properties store, highlighting the self-conscious theatricality of the piece, but other than sitting there, nothing is done with this material. No properties are physically removed from or added to it during the performance, and the actors make no reference to it. It therefore has no more real dramaturgical function or justification than the painted backdrops which minimalists like Beckett and Ionesco hated. If anything, its main effect is to give a sense of cosy familiarity to what otherwise should, I would have thought, be read as a frighteningly sparse and placeless realm. 

This would not matter if the stage was evenly used, but Huber does not address the particular geometries set up by The Globe. The space is long, deep and narrow. Roberts placed the mound which Gogo sits on against the left wall, and it spreads some length across the front section of the space. The tree which Didi intermittently gazes at is placed some way back, stage centre.

What this means is that all of the space behind the tree is essentially dead space, only being used once each act when the Boy arrives each time to tell them Godot will not arrive (though here again, things could be better thought out, as Watson is forced to perform these scenes with his back to the audience). The linking of Didi to the tree is also underdeveloped, since the respective positions of the tree and the mound off centre to each side is not even, so they do not read as objects whose pairing echoes that of the protagonists, as Beckett and others meant them to be. The scenographic logic is thus ultimately all but irrelevant to what drives this production, which strikes me as something of a pity given the famous images which Beckett has given us here. 

All of this leaves a very narrow band of stage at the front in which the action is performed. The Globe’s lack of wings for exits and entrances further crowds the performance, and – unsurprisingly – Watson and Love frequently play their scenes standing close together, parallel to each other, and in profile to the audience. The audience’s ability to read or enjoy the actors’ expressive use of gesture or physiognomy is thereby curtailed, a problem again not helped by Watson’s long coat, which obscures almost all of his body and posture. 

The play therefore becomes principally a drama of voice – hence my accent on Watson’s and Love’s vocal characteristics as key to the actual pleasures and successes of this production. Here too, I must (perhaps churlishly after all of this) again confess I wanted more.

Although in Huber’s previous works, such as One Day (2010), he has shown that his mastery of the use of space is not always as astute as one might like, he has proven that he is something of an actor’s actor. The ability to coax out of performers an easy, affective and charismatic sense of naturalism and everyday speech is everywhere evident in his own writing for the theatre, as well as his work as a director. 

Huber transposes these skills to Godot, and Watson especially shines in making Beckett’s rather odd lines sound as though they are coming from a man speaking his mind in the moment.

I would however suggest that this is totally antithetical to Beckett’s whole oeuvre (though The Gate would not agree). Beckett often spoke of writing in such an abstract and non-rational way that his texts recall music more than drama per se – it is worth noting here that Beckett was also a critic of French Modernist painting, and he championed abstract, non-figurative art for exactly this reason. 

To reinject what I would characterise here as vocal figuration into Beckett’s work means that the musicality of the writing is often blunted and shoe-horned into a very different musicality, namely the musicality of daily speech. 

Huber’s production is not devoid of these elements. The famous, oft repeated exchange of: “Let’s go”; “We can’t”; “Why not?”; “We’re waiting for Godot”; “Aah!” does have a driving percussive form no matter how it is recited, and sections about the leaves of the tree rustling and so on also provide a few moments of lyrical tempos in the production.

Nevertheless, this possibility is not really explored or highlighted beyond this, and many of Beckett’s best lines are lost or muted because they are said in a more easy flowing manner. 

In the end, staging a play like Godot is always going to bring a muted response from those, such as myself, who have invested so much emotion and critical energy to debating its meanings and interpretations over the years. Even so, it is my contention that attending Beckett plays needs to be made hard, thoughtful work, otherwise it should not be done at all, and that a greater attention to the scenic and interpretative challenges and to developing a more thorough unity of staging, voice and text for this production would not have gone astray.    
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John Smythe August 27th, 2011

"My work is a matter of fundamental sounds (no joke intended) made as fully as possible, and I accept responsibility for nothing else. If people want to have headaches among the overtones, let them. And provide their own aspirin." 
(Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), Irish dramatist, novelist. "Beckett's Letters on Endgame," p. 185, The Village Voice Reader, Doubleday (1962). From a letter to Alan Schneider dated April 30, 1957.) 

Jonathan Marshall August 27th, 2011

As I said, I DID like this one, I just didnt agree with it. That said, Beckett's own film version, while pretty dry, is also pretty compelling (The San Quentin Theatre Co version I give the YouTube link). I was also fortunate enough many years ago to see the version done by the then called Australian Nouvelle Theatre, aka Anthill Theatre, directed by Jean-Piere Mignon, and with Jacek Koman and Alex Menglet in the lead roles (Jacek was Godo to Alex's Didi). This was before either become fairly successful Australain TV actors.

Both had heavy Eastern European accents, which given the then role of Vaclav Havel (still a dissent at this stage, not in power), Tom Stoppard, rise of Solidarity, and pre-Yugoslav break up seemed both contextually politically appropriate, but also suitably placeless. The expanse of planes which head out between East and West are in many cases a kind of featureless no-where's ville, and were still rather that way politically. It also set the work in a distinctly European intellectual tradition, which of course is more or less what Im arguing for. Plus since they could speak any language you name, they also did the French interjections superbly.

Another key to the success was that Jacek and Alex had both only been in Australia for around 5 years, maybe less --- I could be wrong on this, but I THINK so; Im pretty sure they're both first wave immigrants. In either case, their English is and has always been perfect, but because of the accent and recent uptake of it, EVERY word was mannered and musical --- as indeed the language is for Beckett himself, who first wrote Godot not in his native English, but in French, and then re-translated it back into English (with some changes).

The language was therefore very opaque. This was a co-production with Melbourne Theatre Co, and they had a famous TV comedian whose name now escapes me as (curious resonance with Jimmy) a bald Pozzo. I didnt like him quite as much. Being TV trained, his projection wasnt good, so everything came off slightly forced and shouty. But he was pretty good, and beautifully attired (admittedly in a costume directly modelled on that Roger Blin wore in the original production). Jacek's brother Tomek did a gorgeous set design, again modelled on the original, but with some nice touches. The tree came out of carpet, as I recall. It was certainly a very spartan and measured, even at times slow, version.

Their version of Endgame a bit later was also good, as was 11th Hour's version in Melbourne (EG, not Godot) recently, and they also did Krapp's Last Tape superbly not long ago.

I myself worked on an all female version of Godot at the University of Melbourne Theatre Department, a Fringe production directed by Karen Corbet. It was great actually, and they made the fact that Gogo was taller than Didi really work well. Beautiful lighting design, and I made the tree (a modified hill's hoist clothes line). Very detailed costuming in a sort of muddled 1920s look, with frayed flapper hats.

I later was lighting operator on a great production of Endgame done by my late friend and colleague, Lucien Savron, who ran the Universal Theatre for a while amongst other highlights.

But the Anthill production was something of a personal landmark event for me. I adored that production, and it definitively put me on the path to embracing non-character-based, non-psychological, and much more conceptual, non-Naturalistic theatre and performance.

Arun Subramaniam August 27th, 2011

Meticulously reviewed and I agree with your last point - Beckett should be difficult, deep theatre. In that sense, not an easy production to stage - have you seen a production that you felt hit all the right notes?

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Dynamic and very funny

Review by Terry MacTavish 21st Aug 2011

For its 50th anniversary year the Globe has remounted one of its very first productions, a play since voted the most influential of the 20th century: the absurdist masterpiece, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. The determined producer, Irish like the playwright, was one Patric Carey, and this is what he had founded the Globe Theatre to do: bring exciting, challenging new theatre to our very own backwater, Dunedin.

Amazing really, that the same play which had caused near-riots when it premiered in London in 1956, should have strutted its stuff in staid Dunedin a mere couple of years later. Surely it resonated for a generation which had endured at least one shattering World War, and had a visceral understanding of the nightmarish absurdity of the human condition, lost and purposeless. 

But what of 2011? Is it possible for this iconic play to have the same shocking impact? Certainly the despair and defiant hope of Godot has been recognised as stunningly relevant when presented in hotspots like Sarajevo, New Orleans, South Africa, San Quentin Gaol: anywhere humanity looks desperately for a saviour. I can imagine an audience in Christchurch grimly identifying the powerful mysterious figure of Godot as the EQC.

This production is directed by Richard Huber, an exceptionally innovative and energetic theatre practitioner who usually surprises. Expecting a bleak, cruel experience, I felt pleasantly let off the hook to realise that what comes through is humour, and the warmth of companionship between the old tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, whose nicknames seem more appropriate to this production: Didi and Gogo.

Famously this is called the play where nothing happens – twice. Two homeless men wait under a bare tree in a terrifyingly empty space for a man called Godot who will, maybe, give them work, purpose, some sort of refuge. Not a plot in the conventional sense but as Martin Esslin states, plot can exist only on the assumption that events in time are significant. And that is the assumption the play questions. The power and terror of time. The alternating despair and hope of waiting. If Godot comes, they will be saved.

In the meantime it seems to me that a lot happens, and all of it entertaining. We have the sinister excitement of the arrivals of monstrous bully Pozzo and his pitiful slave Lucky. And all the while Didi and Gogo talk ceaselessly, fascinatingly, and invent endless games to stop themselves from thinking, from facing the hopelessness of their situation.
“It passes the time…”
“It would have passed anyway.”

Beckett requires a bare stage with one tree, and that’s what Huber and set and lighting designer Martyn Roberts give us, but in a spirit perhaps of lightly ironic homage to the Globe itself, it is a bare space within a theatre: there are no wings, the tree grows through floor boards, and the props shelves stand proud and plain to be seen. The lighting is lovely, as we have come to expect from Roberts, his alchemy transmuting what could be barren ugliness to soft beauty. 

Huber has a ready-made pairing in John Watson as Vladimir and Harry Love as Estragon. When I saw these actors in Love’s All’s Well that Ends last year, it struck me how well they would be suited to Waiting for Godot. They create characters that are interdependent and complementary, and actually charming. They fall easily into the music-hall patterns of the classic comic duo, bouncing off each other with well-practised ease. 

John Watson is an endearing Didi, all flapping shirt sleeves and unreliable bladder as he worries over their chances of finding salvation. He handles Beckett’s clever chicanery with confidence, and I enjoyed his occasional assumption of an Irish accent where it seemed appropriate. Didi is the more intelligent, the more hopeful, and the more compassionate. He summons up the courage to reproach Pozzo for his treatment of Lucky, while Gogo is more intent on scoring the discarded bones from Pozzo’s picnic. 

Harry Love as Gogo has some amusing moments of physical comedy, as he struggles with his painful boots, grumbling and forgetful. Together they develop a winning rhythm with the lines, especially in the more lyrical passages. They have the cosy normality of an old married couple, and it is easy to believe in their long vitally sustaining friendship.

However the interdependency of whip-cracking Pozzo and his crushed slave Lucky is surely sadomasochistic, and it is here that the more sinister aspects of the play reveal themselves. Huber has ensured that Pozzo, though funny, is also a crazed bully. He is the unexplained character who seems to have more hidden than revealed.

In the role of Pozzo is Jimmy Currin, a strikingly original actor who draws the eye. I have never seen anyone make so much of simply trying to get to his feet, sprawling helpless on his back like a demented beetle, blinded, his face white, with painted eye on forehead. ‘Stop tormenting me with your accursed time’, he screams at the tramps, but he is one who points out we are born ‘astride a grave’. 

His slave Lucky, with the horror of a rope around his throat, is played by Jerome Cousins, rather surprisingly with a (natural) American accent. He enters with compelling little percussive steps and is suitably browbeaten until he suddenly explodes into his curious, disjointed dance and delivers his bizarre parody of philosophical gobbledygook.

The fresh-faced boy who brings Godot’s message of hope deferred is played with the easy confidence of youth by promising newcomer Liam Johnston. His arrival made me wonder anew what the Y and Me generations will be making of all this.

It is their good fortune to have the opportunity to witness a dynamic and very funny production of a play that really did change theatre, to the extent that Godot has become a way of looking at life. But I doubt they’ll be left with a sense of humanity’s pitiful vulnerability. It’s a relief that we have Beckett’s permission to arrive at our own interpretation: when asked what was meant by Godot, he replied, ‘If I knew, I would have said so in the play’.

Perhaps I would be better off facing up to the pointless suffering of existence, but instead I am grateful for the hopeful human heart that finds solace in friendship, in curiosity, lively imagination and dazzling wordplay. Odd that a play dealing with the misery of the human condition leaves me feeling curiously light-hearted, almost, indeed, joyous, but I’m not complaining. See it, it might cheer you up. 
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