June 16, 2014

Arcola Theatre – Waiting for Godot. 11th June 2014

The Arcola setting of Waiting for Godot was centred around a pile of rubble rising diagonally up through the walls and onto the first floor of the seemingly crumbling building of the theatre itself. For some spectators, sitting opposite, it resembled nothing less than a giant desiccated wormery, whose former inhabitants had long fled. Sometimes, Didi scrambled up and sat on the first floor ledge, legs dangling over the edge, to watch the proceedings, and, indeed, the audience. Sitting directly opposite him at the same height, making an effort to hold his unwavering voyeuristic gaze, I was no longer the observer but the (uncomfortably) observed, waiting for Godot.

The stage, if it could be called that, was an uninviting, badly damaged, puddled surface of unknown origin. It could have been a degraded formerly interior concrete surface, or a piece of land stripped of topsoil, right down to clay. A large duckboard lay futilely towards the front or was it the side, or the back, or the middle of the stage - which would depend where you were sitting in the audience. Our seats, positioned in front of, behind and to one side of the action, were mixed up with the wreckage shored up against environmental ruins. A dilapidated old chair, identical to the seats an audience member had perhaps sat in in a former life, lay overturned where it had fallen or been thrown. The single naked tree meanwhile stood rigidly against the steel corner beam of the building, roots trapped in the mound of bricks, lumps of concrete and stones. This was the utterly awful place in which Didi and Gogo waited for Godot, and the limits and pressures of physiology and psychology (accurately played by a strong cast) shaped the self-inflicted human suffering endured by the people stuck in this environment.

Una Chaudhuri refers to the ecological meaning in plays such as Waiting for Godot as 'occluded'. In the Arcola production, such meaning could hardly be more stark. Didi and Gogo inhabit a post-entropic world composed of layers of accumulated degradation and dead matter, so dry and dusty that all hope of decomposition is gone, and jugs of water are required to slake the dust that might otherwise choke the audience. The water of the world was a 'constant quantity' and it is gone. Gogo's first appearance, ironically, resembled a birth as he comically struggled to emerge from the plastic sack in which he seemed to have slept, and now might suffocate. In a couple of centuries' time, the recently predicted disappearance of the West Antarctic ice sheets might develop in parallel with desolate scenes like this, and the human beings enduring preindustrial conditions might be imagined to say, as Vladimir does: 'What's the use of losing heart now [...]. We should have thought of it, a million years ago, in the nineties'. Waiting for Godot adapts with the times, and one of several possible environmental readings of this production, for the 21st century, is of the danger of waiting for so long that it will be too late to 'look to nature'.

Creatives:Adam Charteris (Boy); Jonathan Oliver (Pozzo); Tom Palmer (Vladimir); Michael Roberts (Lucky); Tom Stourton (Estragon). Source: Programme Notes.

Brief production history: San Quentin Prison (1957); Mississippi during the civil rights movement (1964); Sarajevo during the Bosnian War (1993); post-Katrina New Orleans (2007); post-Deepwater Louisiana Wetlands (2011); Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street (2011); post-tsunami Fukushima (2011). Sources: Programme notes and the websites of Loyola University and the Kamome Machine Theatre Group.

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