To any theatregoer, the story is familiar. After all, there isn’t much to tell; two vagrant men stand at the base of a tree and wait for Godot, who may or may not come. In this 50th year of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company and the final year of artistic director Mark Thomson’s 13-year leadership, the decision has been taken to focus on simplicity and star quality in this new version of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 masterpiece.
Amidst designer Michael Taylor’s brilliantly-conceived set of snow-blasted nothingness, stretching off into the false horizon, the casting of Scots actors Brian Cox and Bill Paterson as the eagerly doltish Vladimir and the world-weary Estragon is a pairing to grab the attention far and wide.
The quality and tightly-controlled subtlety of the performances ring out, each period of silence or slightest change in mood played to perfection. The material is treated with poignant respect, but not fawned over; the pair call to mind an existentially-troubled Laurel and Hardy, with Cox’s fierce clowning skills a particular revelation.
As savage but genteel aristo Pozzo and his manservant-cum-slave Lucky, John Bett and Benny Young also provide high-level support. Every resonance is thoroughly explored – is it about friendship? Age? Death? Dementia? – but none need be mentioned, such is the level of mastery here.