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Waiting For Godot – Arcola Theatre, London

Writer: Samuel Beckett

Director: Simon Dormandy

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Once said of James Joyce’s book Ulysses: “If you just read it you won’t understand it, if you study it you won’t enjoy it.” Actually, something along those lines is probably said every day by those trying to tackle the work, probably in far more frustrated words. To the uninitiated or the newcomer, the book is nerve-racking, weighed down by a cultural legacy that sees it constantly cited as one of the most difficult books in English ever written. To escape the view of Joyce’s work as a paper-based monolith will require focus and an open mind, much the same as getting over any culturally or socially ingrained notion.

Joyce’s Irish contemporary Samuel Beckett’s work enjoys much the same, though to a lesser degree, reputation among those unfamiliar with the dramatist. Most people will have heard of Waiting for Godot. Some will have heard its reputation as a play in which ‘nothing happens, twice.’ The play is spoken of as Beckett’s most important work and spoken of as a tough one to properly understand. There is a risk, as with Joyce’s work, that those without an inclination to drama, literature or philosophical challenges can discount the work as too much of a challenge, depriving themselves of a terrific experience.

The hope is that presenting this smashing new version, with a lot to offer besides tough existentialist themes and the lack of an actual Godot, will get brand new initiates through the door and introduce this gem to a wider audience. In it, two men, Gogo and Didi (Estragon and Vladimir, played by Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer) wait for another man called Godot. While they wait, they talk, and as they sit on the roadside are passed by two other men (Pozzo and Lucky, played by Jonathan Oliver and Michael Roberts) who stop and talk a while as well.

A detailed analysis of Beckett’s work is beyond the scope of this review though analysis and deep thinking about the play is one of the key enjoyment factors. Simon Dormandy’s direction and Patrick Kinmonth’s outstanding set create an intimacy that sees the audience placed on the roadside with Gogo and Didi, in every possible way. We feel the frustration with Godots failure to show up, are involved in the conversation about time and humanity’s natures. The audience are an essential character in this version, diagonally bisected by the road and the players. Combined with the cast, “all mankind is us.”

In theatre, it’s important to be modern. Every so often, we are brought to sharp awareness of how modern this production really is. The physical comedy of Totally Tom (Stourton and Palmer’s collective name) in the play fight scene is great. The guys look like they’re really enjoying themselves. That should be set against the momentum of the two characters they play and unfortunately at the moment, the way it is balanced means sometimes the show’s entire flow is disrupted.

This is a Godot to recommend highly and to bring people to see whether you are a newcomer or have heard intimidating things about it. Its density and pace mean that you may learn little during, but in discussion and analysis over a drink afterwards you’ll get a real education.

Photo: Alastair Muir

Runs until 14th June

Writer: Samuel Beckett Director: Simon Dormandy Reviewer: Karl O'Doherty Once said of James Joyce's book Ulysses: “If you just read it you won't understand it, if you study it you won't enjoy it.” Actually, something along those lines is probably said every day by those trying to tackle the work, probably in far more frustrated words. To the uninitiated or the newcomer, the book is nerve-racking, weighed down by a cultural legacy that sees it constantly cited as one of the most difficult books in English ever written. To escape the view of Joyce's work as a paper-based monolith will…

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A Godot to recommend highly

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