Theatre Review: Waiting for Godot @ Tobacco Factory Theatres
by Polly Hember
‘ESTRAGON: Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!’ This is a notoriously difficult play, as well as one of the most significant and seminal plays of the twentieth century. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot dissolves traditional theatrical narratives and techniques, challenging language itself and looking bleakly at the inertia, the futility and the experience of the human condition. Director Mark Rosenblatt has taken on this pivotal play with a playful, ludic energy that highlights the tragi-comedy of the intense script.
The two vagrants Estragon (Colin Connor) and Vladimir (David Fielder) are dressed in eccentric and baggy clothes that present a motley of traditional and modern; Estragon wears an acid-house smiley face t-shirt underneath a ragged suit jacket, and a baseball cap instead of the standard bowler hat. Janet Bird’s set design also gestures towards modern day homelessness, situating the scene (a bare road, with a dead tree, seemingly in the middle of nowhere in Beckett’s original) in a make-shift building site of desolation, with stacks of bricks, rubble and boards littered about the claustrophobic set.
This results in pushing Estragon and Vladimir out of the bare purgatory of Beckett’s original staging and towards the modern day; are they squatters on an abandoned construction site, are they unemployed builders perhaps? Whatever the answer, they are waiting. Waiting for Godot. Waiting by a tree, that here is fashioned of thin metal poles and bulldog clips. Waiting for a man that they might not recognise, and one that may never appear. The sense of cold, crippling futility overwhelms the set, where building blocks have been abandoned, waiting unused and useless: much like the tired and bored inhabitants.
Clever set design utilises The Tobacco Factory’s round stage, where the circling audience act as the uncertain threat looming in the shadows that Estragon is so scared of, that he feels might converge and start beating him out of nowhere. Brilliantly creepy lighting techniques employed by Matthew Graham provide a sinister discord that accentuates this menacing shadow surrounding the small stage, with flickering lights and a tension that could be plucked right out of Stranger Things or Silent Hill.
Fielder is a fantastic Vladimir; the more optimistic of the two he is bizarrely endearing and comforting, offering ‘we are waiting for Godot’ as a solution to a disturbed and outwardly angry and restless Estragon. Connor is a brilliantly bushy and brash Estragon who sits and lollops about the stage with painful, throbbing feet; which works perfectly against Fielder’s softer and more energetic Vladimir who zips about the stage, restlessly pacing with an odd, eccentric gait that feeds into the clowning, comic nature of the piece. A fantastic pair, the actors have a clever chemistry that allows us to focus on the co-dependant yet toxic relationship their characters cannot break. Here, truly tender moments dominate Gogo and Didi’s notoriously ambivalent friendship; they jump into each other’s arms, allow for soft moments of seriousness and comradery and Rosenblatt allows the two to really explore the friendship of the two desolate and dysfunctional men. With wild and clowning physicality, perfectly performed dialogue and brilliant timing allows for bursts of laughter at the ludic humour and then pensive intense silences where the tragedy of existential inertia and the dangers of human habit are voiced with a slow, solemn and helpless nature. Plus, Estragon’s lines performed in Connor’s deep Belfast accent allows his distressing dialogue to flow brilliantly.
Pozzo (John Stahl) bursts onto stage in a disjointed, loud and ludic explosion. Donned in a huge fake-fur coat, red jogging bottoms, a tie-die shirt underneath a waistcoat, flowing scarves and topped with a pink trilby, he is gaudy and obnoxious. Anxious for attention and recognition, he commands the stage in a loud, affected English accent. Sharply contrasting the pale and wasting-away Lucky (Chris Bianchi), whose exhausted panting can be heard throughout the tense and uncomfortable scene. Bianchi brilliantly conveys the tired injustice of the disturbed power imbalance between them, and his ‘thinking’ monologue is performed with a nervous and frantic energy, making it one of the most powerful and dizzying moments in the entire production. The jarring sorrow that overwhelms the second act where Pozzo reappears blind, and Lucky dumb, is communicated perfectly and painfully in Pozzo’s helplessness, contradicting his booming and abrasive performance in the first act.
This is a fantastic and sophisticated production that succeeds in allowing for the heart-warming warmth and comedy and also for the tragic despair of loss, the disastrous potentiality of human habit and existential dread. It respects Beckett the darkness of Beckett’s writing but hints towards a hope for human connection. This is a hope that waits and waits and waits.
Check out our gallery for more photographs of Rosenblatt's production.
Waiting for Godot continues at the Tobacco Factory Theatre until November 4. Book tickets here.
Image credit Mark Dawson Photography