Waiting For Godot, New Ambassadors, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

It was a terrible injustice last year that the Beckett centenary could not be marked in London by this pitch-perfect production by Peter Hall, which played at the Theatre Royal in Bath. The rights to the play in the capital were held by the Barbican and the Gate Theatre, Dublin, and the production that arrived was a lifeless, shop-worn affair.

Hall directed the first production in English at the Arts Theatre in 1955 when, amid the general confusion of the critical reception, Kenneth Tynan declared the play "validly new".

At Monday's opening I sat behind the original Lucky, Timothy Bateson, who, said Tynan, made Lucky's anguish justifiably comic. Lucky is the dope on a rope, the dog slave of the overbearing Pozzo, whose torrential monologue of memorial fragments now seems like a desperate howl for a lost life, not comic at all. Richard Dormer plays this speech like a burst geyser and the rest of the role with a straining terror.

We have no problem now in seeing that Waiting For Godot is a minimalist tragedy of the human condition and, with a shared modern confidence in the poetry of nihilism and mortality - "They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more" - we can sit back and enjoy the formal beauty of the piece.

This Sir Peter certainly allows us to do. He directs the play like Mozart. Some customers might prefer a rougher approach, something more bestial and less perfect in the staging. But you won't have experienced finer nuancing of Beckett, unless you saw the author's own spiritually monumental Berlin version in 1975.

James Laurenson and Alan Dobie, two of Britain's finest "second lead" actors are instinctively inseparable as Vladimir and Estragon, the two tramps in the void, the one wryly stoical, the other openly resigned.

As one tramp tells the other, this blathering of theirs has been going on for 50 years. Now, it really has. Irishly accented, and perfectly poised on the abyss, Hall's definitive version is a right royal celebration, the last hurrah for our own tragic frailty and insignificance.

To 18 November (08700 606 627)

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