All entries for Tuesday 24 March 2009

March 24, 2009

Waiting for Godot @ Milton Keynes Theatre

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I saw Godot last week at Milton Keynes, and have put off writing anything about it so far because, to be honest, I don't really have a lot to say. I'm no expert on Beckett, I have very little frame of reference for judging the quality of an interpretation by, and it seems to me that, considering the restrictions placed by the Beckett estate on textual changes or setting, the main locus for reinterpretation is in the acting itself, which oddly is probably the bit of theatre I'm least interested in.

However, you'd be pressed to find a better production of Godot doing the rounds. Much has been made of the calibre of the cast: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup, and all four lived up to expectations. There was a music hall vibe to the performances, which saw McKellen and Stewart performing little routines with their hats and short dances. This aesthetic bent the production heavily towards comedy, with lots of knowing winks towards the audience and general mutual appreciation of the fun of watching two theatrical legends take on Beckett. Both were excellent throughout, displaying a camaraderie and comfort with each other that made the characters' long assocation entirely believable.

The comedy was welcome, though it meant that the play's darkness rather crept around the edges. Stephen Brimson Lewis' set evoked a cemetery, with holes in the ground and stone walls rising up to the flies, thus meaning that death was never too far from the mind. Some more attention to this in the performances might have enriched the production further - with rarely a dull moment onstage amid all the fun, I felt that the darker suggestions were sometimes lost. However, Pickup's performance as Lucky, culminating in a wonderfully traumatic and terrifying monologue of repeated phrases and disjointed movements, broke through the rest of the production in a startling and hugely effective way, funny but at the same time haunting and terrible.

Just some thoughts, rather than an actual review. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though wish in many ways I'd been sitting closer - McKellen and Stewart's speaking voices were quiet enough from where I was sitting that every cough from the audience drowned them out. I suppose I was disappointed that, having neither read nor seen Godot before, I left the theatre with no huge desire to do either again. Someone once suggested to me that Godot is a play which rewards study rather than viewing, which is an interesting claim to make about a play. I'd have loved to have seen this again having spent some time studying it; as it was, it was a perfectly enjoyable evening, but I don't feel I particularly gained anything from it, in the same way I did from last year's Endgame.

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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.

The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.

Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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