Samuel Beckett's subtitle for Waiting for Godot is "a tragicomedy", and that is how Chris Honer, the director of this production, plays it. In the past 50 years, comedians from Bert Lahr and Zero Mostel to Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson have essayed the roles of Vladimir and Estragon, but in his choice of the versatile character actors David Fielder and George Costigan, Honer acknowledges one of the very few hints Beckett ever provided about his enigmatic play.
Fielder and Costigan are an amusing pair, affectionate yet constantly squabbling, frustrated with, yet dependent on, each other. Fielder portrays Vladimir as a knowing gent, down on his luck, restlessly pacing as he scans every horizon for something, for anything, keeping the void away with a desperate optimism. With straggly hair and ever-mobile eyes and mouth, Fielder seems to nod to the memorable performance in the role by the vaudevillian Max Wall at Manchester's Royal Exchange three decades ago.
Costigan's Estragon, a downbeat junior partner, is wearily baffled. He is constantly puzzled both by the monotony of his situation and by the concept of the possibility of Godot's arrival. His restrained performance cleverly complements the ants-in-the pants activity of his friend. In the second act, when he does suddenly erupt with rage at the futility of his existence, he gives us both barrels, though sometimes here his diction lost clarity.
Russell Dixon's overbearing Pozzo is so repulsive, and his disdain for his haltered manservant, Lucky, is so tangible, that we are reluctant to discern his underlying vulnerability, which is more evident in his second appearance, when he is blind. Our sympathies remain with Lucky, excellently played by David Neilson, who is on leave from his role as Roy Cropper in Coronation Street.
The pace of dialogue in this production (which is played on a sparse stage in pitiless bright light, emphasising that there is no escape for Vladimir and Estragon) means that the words occasionally overrun the pauses. By contrast, there is a moment in the finale when Vladimir's face crumples, as he slows, stops and allows the circular aimlessness of his existence to close in upon him, before he pushes it away yet again.
And what does it all mean? Political, Freudian, existential, biblical, allegorical? Beckett wrote: "I cannot explain my plays: each must find out for himself what is meant." Honer's powerful production enables a thoroughly engrossed audience to do just that.
To Sat (0161-236 7110)
Julian Wilde, Independent Schools Inspector, Lytham St Annes
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