Waiting for Godot

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

30/06/2010 - 02/07/2010

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

13/07/2010 - 14/07/2010

Production Details

Acclaimed British theatre star Sir Ian McKellen returns to New Zealand in June for a very limited season of the award-winning production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Kay and McLean Productions Pty Ltd, Arnold M Crook, Paul Elliott, Nigel Everett and Duncan C Weldon in association with HVK Productions and Michael Coppel have announced the Wellington and Christchurch seasons of London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket Company’s production of Waiting for Godot starring Ian McKellen (Estragon), Roger Rees (Vladimir), Matthew Kelly (Pozzo) and Brendan O’Hea (Lucky).

Sir Ian is best known in New Zealand as Gandalf in Peter’s Jackson’s Academy Award-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy and last performed on New Zealand stages in 2007 in the Royal Shakespeare Company productions of King Lear and The Seagull in Auckland and Wellington.

When Samuel Beckett’s play exploded on to the stage 50 years ago, it shocked as many people as it delighted. There had never been a play like it; indeed it was said that: "(Beckett) has achieved a theoretical impossibility – a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats".

In the play, two old friends (Estragon and Vladimir) meet to converse, joke and argue with themselves as they wait through one day and then another for the mysterious Godot. The combination of music hall, poetry and tension redefined what is possible in theatre, so that today, Waiting for Godot is accepted as one of the most significant plays of the 20th century.

Following its record-breaking season last year at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (for both the play and the theatre), Waiting for Godot directed by Sean Mathias will conclude its hugely successful return season in the West End before touring to Australia and then on to New Zealand from May to July this year.

Waiting for Godot has four performances at the St James Theatre, Wellington from June 30 to July 2.

Waiting for Godot,
St James Theatre, Wellington, 30 June 2010 – 2 July 2010
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, 13 July 2010 – 14 July 2010
Tickets are on sale through Ticketek
phone 0800 TICKETEK (842 538) or www.ticketek.co.nz

For more information, visit www.akaaustralia.com.au   

“Masterly McKellen glitters. ….” London Evening Standard, 2010
“The funniest and most compassionate production you will ever see. ….” Daily Telegraph (UK)
“The theatrical event of the year. …” Daily Express (UK)
“It’s harrowing, it’s funny, it’s human: go and see it, and laugh till you cry. …” Time Out (UK)

For full information about Waiting for Godot, including cast biographies, log onto www.waitingforgodottheplay.com 

Ian McKellen – Estragon
Roger Rees – Vladimir
Matthew Kelly – Pozzo
Brendan O’Hea – Lucky
Chris Buckham / Peter McKenzie – Boy  

Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting Designer: Paul Pyant
Sound Designer: Paul Groothuis

Assistant Director: Jo Turner
Wardrobe/Wigs: Ruth Maloney

Desolation depicted with humanity, tenderness and wry humour

Review by Lindsay Clark 14th Jul 2010

Like all great classics, this play is capable of endless illumination and fascination. The stage is filled with inaction for almost the whole time and indeed the two tramps who inhabit it have nowhere to go since they are helplessly trapped in a habit deadening pattern of indecision.

They cannot go on without meeting Mr Godot, but their waiting is unbearable and they can never remember enough of the past to secure the present, let alone the future. It is the very paradox of certain uncertainty which has us in its spell in a production where design and the living text are superbly in tune.

Beckett’s extraordinary creation however, setting forth his view of the human predicament in a seemingly hopeless world, is so well known, that anticipation of grim gloom is inevitable. Habit deadens indeed.

What we are not prepared for is the brilliant concept fitted out by director Sean Mathias and his creative team: Stephen Brimson Lewis for the set, Paul Pyant for lighting and Paul Groothuis for sound.

It is a world imprinted with an almost legible past. Before us is a ruined theatre. The machinery of illusion is almost all gone, a back cloth hangs in tatters and the stage itself is crumbling, framed by dilapidated arches and boxes. The skeleton tree poking up through the masonry suggests that nature is reclaiming the territory and the moon seems to shine directly into the void.

This is a world where fantasy has had its day, but it is also rich in suggestion, which fits neatly with the whiff of vaudeville in the play itself. Estragon and Vladimir (the tramps) are given to snatches of music hall routines as they wait endlessly for the appointed arrival of the mysterious Mr Godot. Larger than life Pozzo and his wretched performance thinker, Lucky, both relate impeccably to the setting.

Sound and lighting are integral of course to the effect of all this. Paul Groothuis unsettles us with sound that seems to come from the outside world, but could just as well be an expression of mood – a deep, ominous rumble in particular. There is a moment of comforting pigeon early in the play but nature is decidedly absent, even when the tree puts out tentative foliage for Act 2.

Paul Pyant’s lighting is both delicate and dramatic, creating starkly grotesque shadows towards the end, with a startling barred stage door revealed, where we might have supposed there could be an exit.   

The acting is superb. Ian McKellen’s Estragon and Roger Rees’s Vladimir weave an unforgettable partnership.

Gogo(Estragon) has a warmly Yorkshire accent which supports the indisputable logic of his utterances for an unexpectedly comic effect, while his vulnerability is totally endearing. He is a grubby, sometimes cantankerous, self centred and greedy old codger but we love him.

As Vladimir, Roger Rees is his match, balancing the often petty arguments thrown up by their differing temperaments with his own vigorous speculation and urgent physical business brought on by a weak bladder. He is more active physically than Gogo, but just as thwarted when it comes to finding any solution to the painful present.

The two have a shared past where song and dance, light-footedness and patter were everyday business. It is a comforting thought and the stability of their interdependence brings a vital core to the unresolved world now before us.

Pozzo is a huge presence, with all the bravado of a man with undisputed power. Matthew Kelly colours him vividly, using voice as an extra whip as he takes control of the scene and the luckless Lucky in particular.

The latter, played by an unflinching Brendan O’Hea, brings another delicate echo of the theatrical world as an eventual ‘performance’ of thinking aloud is demanded of him. His eloquent, well-modulated speech, like the endeavours of everyone it seems, has no discernable relevance, but is nevertheless exhausting and depleting. 

In sum then, the production brings work of a rare calibre to our door. For all Beckett’s desolate statement, the team finds humanity, tenderness and wry humour in his world. The horror of our ‘difficult birth’ and endless waiting for some sort of resolution, is softened by the understanding that although bonds are not necessarily comfortable, they offer us stability.

It is a wonderful play and the vision of it brought by this company is offered with exceptional clarity.
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Delight in the depths of desolation

Review by John Smythe 01st Jul 2010

A theatre in ruins is the sight that greets us (designer, Stephen Brimson Lewis): the colourless theatre boxes on either side are ghostly reflections of the real ones; an apparition that eerily suggests the disrepair the St James may have fallen into had visionaries not ensured its restoration and revived vitality. Fallen masonry and gaping holes litter the raked timber floor. Was this the stage or the auditorium, or are they one and the same? Has it been bombed in a war, killed by neglect or is this a state of mind?  

The ominous thrum that heralds the start of the play (sound designer Paul Groothuis) confirms devastation, whatever the cause. It is into this bleak present – with what prospects for a future? – that Ian McKellen’s Estragon (Gogo) claws, crawls and limps, to perch on the remains of an ornate column and attempt to remove his troublesome boot. His mournful groan, in a thick Yorkshire accent, “Nothing to be done,” sums up the state of this pitiful nation.  

The altogether brighter and more clipped voice of Roger Rees’s Vladimir (Didi) precedes him through one of the arches beneath the aforementioned boxes. “I’m beginning to come round to that opinion,” he tells his old friend. “All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.” His main struggle these days, given an enlarged prostate and weak bladder, is to avoid laughing.

Estragon, who is beaten by unseen forces every night, is given to nodding off and dreaming but Vladimir – who claims Estragon would be a pile of bones if he wasn’t there to look after him – doesn’t want to hear about them. Or the joke about the Englishman in the brothel.

Didi tries to make the best of here and now. Gogo wants to go.
VLADIMIR: We can’t.
ESTRAGON: Why not?
VLADIMIR: We’re waiting for Godot.

Repeated patterns of inconsequential behaviour are the only things that stop them ceasing to exist entirely. They play out random discussions and arguments, sustained by an ambivalent co-dependency that helps to mask the fact that they have no greater roles to play in this world.

In his chat with Kim Hill (Radio NZ National, 29/5) Sir Ian McKellen said he didn’t know what people meant when they said Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was “existential.” Well I have no hesitation in calling it a profound existential comedy.
Existential: 1 of existence. 2 of human experience as viewed by existentialism. 
Existentialism: a philosophical theory emphasising that people are responsible for their own actions and free to choose their development and destiny.

The comic twist is that Estragon and Vladimir choose inaction; they wait for Godot to determine their lives. They are two determinists trapped in a ‘free will’ (existential) universe: that’s the gag. Anyone who is waiting for Lotto will recognise this state of being.

What grounds the metaphysics in a physical universe in this Sean Mathias-directed production (created last year when he was artistic director of London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket) is the notion that Beckett’s tramps are out-of-work performers in the vaudeville of life; lost without a show to be part of; stranded in the rubble of their once respectable lives. This is entirely justified by the snatches of song, bits of dance and the 3-hats-2-heads routine they resort to at times, all specifically detailed by Beckett.

McKellen’s lugubrious Gogo, a master of the impeccably timed throwaway line, vacillates wonderfully between grumpy old man and whining little boy and he slowly but surely compels our empathy with his deeply human foibles and vulnerabilities.

With his very different physical dynamic and world view, Rees’s determinedly perky (except when he’s not) Didi also commands our empathy, alternately winning our inner applause for his spirit and making us all too aware of the futility of waiting for some other entity to take control of our lives. As a team McKellen and Rees are sublime.

Hope and fearful anticipation arrive in the form of the baggage-laden, rope-tethered, ironically-named Lucky and his whip-cracking, dictatorial master, Pozzo, who claims to own the land on which Didi and Gogo wait.

In the context of this interpretation, then, Pozzo has likewise lost his way and was once the owner-manager of a chain of theatres that have now become surplus to requirements (or this one has, anyway). Godot, then, may be the producer, director or impresario able to give them new roles at last in a brand new venture …

Usually characterised as a suave (except when he’s not) upper-class bastard who can only function by exploiting those he enslaves, this Pozzo – played boorishly by the surprisingly large Matthew Kelly, clad in brown bowler and serge – is ruddy, bilious and, well, common. And Lucky – in the delicate personage of a sylph-like Brendan O’Dea, clad in the remnants of 18th century knee-breeches and tails – turns out, when he speaks at last, to deliver his pseudo academic claptrap in a cultured and melodious voice.

It is during the interval that I rationalise this. Lucky is a remnant of the French Revolution (the play originated in France and is set there) and Pozzo represents the new order. Or maybe they’re all old thespians and Lucky’s last role was in Les Miserables.

At interval I also find myself impressed but not as moved as I’d expected to be. The production’s premise, which enriches every beat with wonderful attention to detail that fits the text perfectly without the slightest hint of gratuitousness, seems somehow to have replaced emptiness and ennui with activity and interest.

Act Two, however, which depicts the next day replete with the déjà vu moments that suggest life is an unhealthy addiction that’s hard to give up (despite Gogo and Didi’s oft-expressed desire to do so), delivers all the tragi-comic pain and pathos we could hope for. The loudness of our laughter is equal and opposite to the depth of the anguish we feel within.

The goatherd Boy who, in both acts, brings a message from Godot that he will not come today but will definitely come tomorrow, is played alternately by young local actors Chris Buckham and Peter McKenzie, with the former appearing on opening night. His innocence and confident honesty in the face of interrogation is both refreshing and depressing, given the destiny that doubtless awaits him too unless he can become his own master. A fine performance.

Two elements one looks for in any production of Godot are the tree and the moon: how will they be manifested this time around? The solitary tree is realistic and, growing through the broken floor, stands as a sign of nature reclaiming her territory. The moon shines like a follow-spot, but is static, amid Paul Pyant’s otherwise subtly changing lighting design.  

Such is the depth of desolation the production reaches at the end that the ‘encore’ curtain call, where McKellen and Rees soft-shoe shuffle to ‘Underneath The Arches’, offers a delightful reminder (as with a Shakespearean epilogue) that this was but a play and our real lives await, do with them what we will.

Wellington and Christchurch are indeed privileged to be graced with this superb production, thanks to Sir Ian McKellen’s connections and commitments. Sorry Auckland.


cameron rhodes July 1st, 2010

YES!! Time to restore the St James!!!!

Michael Smythe July 1st, 2010

"Sorry Auckland" indeed - especially when we have an authentic St James "theatre in ruins" waiting ...

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The wait for perfect theatre piece is over

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Jul 2010

Those who think Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting For Godot is no more than two old men sitting under a tree waiting, which is then repeated in the second act, need to go and see the Theatre Royal’s touring production from London, currently playing at the St James Theatre.

There is almost as much action on stage as there is in a kung-fu movie, yet there are also many moments of tranquillity, silence, all interwoven with pathos and humour. In short, everything to make up a perfect piece of theatre.

Under Sean Mathias’ direction, Beckett’s treatise on the emptiness of human existence and his endless array of images and metaphors on the state of the human condition, the existence of man, life, love, death and more, are portrayed through the lives of old men waiting for Godot.

Vladimir (Roger Rees) is the optimist, forever looking for hope and the bright side of life. Estragon (Sir Ian McKellen) is the epitome of pessimism, slow and melancholic, his sardonic delivery making much of the humour in the lines.

They are an excellent team, totally in tune with each other and their characters, as much opposites as they are equals, one minute arguing, the next consoling each other as they meander from subject to subject, reminiscing about the past, philosophising about the future, all the while waiting for Godot.

Their portrayals are also very physical and provide much of the humour in the production, which in no way lessens Beckett’s subject matter but in many ways heightens it. And although a lot of their routines are vaudevillian in nature, they are fresh and original, never recreating Laurel and Hardy-type performances.

Supporting these two in equally fine performances are Matthew Kelly as the tyrannical Pozzo being led around by his hapless servant Lucky (Brendan O’Hea). They provide a diversion to the waiting game, Kelly’s towering presence and powerful voice used to great advantage in reigning over the old men.

No mention is made in the programme of the boy who does a sterling job arriving at the end of each act with a message from Godot.

Even if the deeper meaning of Beckett’s text is not understood, it is of little consequence, because this is a very watchable and highly entertaining production performed by a group of consummate actors at the height of their game.


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