first night

Waiting For Godot

Carrie Gaunt reviews Raving Mask's production of 'Waiting for Godot'


Waiting for Godot most usually spawns the sobriquet ‘nothing happens, nobody goes, nobody comes, it’s awful,’ in a pert echo of Estragon’s lament in Act 1. And whilst Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece is a little thin on the action, in the capable hands of Raving Mask Theatre Company, it is, if I might be permitted a dreadful pun, rather more awesome than awful.

The production manages to create, in its aesthetics, a sense of the futility of the ‘wait’ – the set is sparse and even the lone tree is far from healthy-looking. A dusty floor and Vladimir and Estragon’s shabby costumes contribute to a pervasive sense of a wasteland or purgatory where nothing is either complete or sensible. It was very clever, very minimal, and worked fabulously with the actors. My one criticism, tech-wise, as pedantic as this may seem, was the transition between sunlight and moonlight projected onto the backcloth, which just happened too smoothly and rapidly to seem realistic. But that said, perhaps ‘realism’ and ‘Beckett’ are never going to be compatible concepts.

Beckett is not an easy taskmaster for an actor – the cast have to find the core of meaning in the, sometimes impenetrable, dialogue in order to maintain audience interest, or the production just risks being completely nonsensical where it should be comically absurd. Michael Forde (Estragon) and Joe Skelton (Vladimir) complement each other as actors beautifully – Forde’s more static and contemplative performance contrasts effectively with Skelton’s perceptible sense of nervous energy. Forde provides the frustration where Skelton provides the resignation. It is, in many respects, a perfect match, but there are flaws in the individual performances which sometimes drag the production dangerously close to losing resonance and coherence for the audience. Skelton has a tendency to garble his lines, which I would probably attribute to nerves given that it became much less of an issue as the performance wore on. But in a play like Waiting for Godot, where words and their nuances are so thematic and pivotal to the entire narrative, lack of vocal clarity is not ideal. This was not helped by the paciness of the performance in general: keeping the vocal exchanges snappy can be both a charm and a curse, and in this case, the initial few scenes did sometimes fall victim to lines being lost in the sheer quickness of the conversation.

I also felt that the moments of physical comedy (Vladimir’s weak bladder for instance) could have been extrapolated a little more and possibly characterisation been tighter. The aforementioned weak bladder suggests age or infirmity but I felt that this was Skelton’s only concession to playing a possibly elderly character. However, both Forde and Skelton were, as ever, predominantly excellent, particularly in their movement around the stage, which never felt forced or obviously ‘directed’.

Things picked up considerably with the entrance of Theo Harrison (Pozzo) and Hugh Train (Lucky), and particularly with Train’s utterly spellbinding ‘thinking’ monologue. I cannot stress enough how incredible this was to watch – Train’s jerky, almost mechanical physicality married spectacularly with a stream-of-consciousness monologue, rich in beautifully controlled tonal variation. Never before has utter nonsense kept me quite so much on the edge of my seat. Harrison’s Pozzo is also impressive: by turns debonair, callous, casual, and the first performer who I felt really grasped the comedy of his situation and communicated this to the audience. Their exit had a palpable effect on Forde and Skelton and I felt that both performers upped their game and were considerably tighter after Harrison and Train had left the stage.

Directors Daisy Cummins and Michael Forde deserve a huge amount of commendation for tackling Godot – esoteric as it is, the play carries a lot of hype with it and Raving Mask have largely taken this on with aplomb. The production boasts an incredibly strong and talented cast who collaborate well together and who create climatic moments with language which manages to be both minimal and complicated. Waiting for Godot challenges both audience and cast members – the cast has risen to the challenge admirably and as for the audience… well, I’d encourage you to go and see for yourself.

15 June 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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