Theatre: Worth waiting for

Beckett Festival Barbican, London

To see everything at the Gate's Beckett Festival at the Barbican requires an energetic commitment. Nineteen plays performed over 18 days; 18 films and documentaries shown over eight. And if you've 45 minutes to spare, an aspect of Samuel Beckett's 30 years of craft and 50 years of influence will be debated nearly every day. By the end of such a melee of recurring words and themes and recurring words and themes, devotees will know what Estragon really means by "I'm tired".

On the evidence of the opening productions, it will be existential energy well spent. When the Festival was first staged in Dublin in 1991, its prime motivation was to bring Beckett home; the accent on origins continued in New York in 1996, and the Gate is determined not to let the old rambler stray far again. Its decision is justified by this wonderful production of Waiting for Godot, written originally in French in 1953, and translated a year later. Through their delivery of Beckett's rhythm and idiom, skewed logic and mordant wit, this exemplary Irish company doesn't so much echo as broadcast the influence of Synge. Like Synge's peasants, Beckett's tramps need to talk - even if it's "blathering about nothing in particular" - and to play-act just to make sure, if not make sense, of being alive.

As a ruefully indefatigable Vladimir, Barry McGovern puts to good use his quizzical demeanour and rich, sardonic voice, honed as Ireland's prime Beckett exponent. He looks and stares like a man who has indeed spent his whole life trapped in Beckett's stage-world; the presence of an audience relieves and amuses him. Johnny Murphy's Estragon has the petulance of a child who keeps forgetting rather than the frustration of a man who can't remember. Moon-faced, bowler-hatted and baggy-trousered, Murphy is only distinguished from being a mini-Jimmy Cricket by his ability to do comedy, and his timing is faultless.

Walter D Asmus's impeccable direction makes much of Beckett's potential, beyond the hat-swapping scene, for vaude- villian comedy. The pair fall in step as they pace the stylishly bleak stage; they look left and right in tandem; they wipe dust from their hands like a latter-day Laurel and Hardy.

But the direction is most rewarding - in a no-pain-no-gain kind of way - when the despair is physically inscribed. When Pozzo (an orotund Alan Stanford) and Lucky (Stephen Brennan) appear, the brilliant, bowed Brennan measures out his bondage in shuffling paces, suggesting that his ankles are bound together. It's harrowing to watch. When the pair return, Pozzo blind and Lucky dumb, the latter is still doubled over but his tiny steps indicate a new purpose. As guide-dog rather than beast of burden, there is a shred of dignity in his employment: their shared existence depends on him.

The first triple bill in the Pit is directed by Bairbre N Chaoimh. In Come and Go, Vi, Flo and Ru sit on a dimly-lit bench, their flying-saucer hats shading their faces. The beauty in this elegaic piece is its gracefulness (the text is only 121 words long). Each woman takes it in turn to pace softly and precisely into the shadows; and each executes a cute, conspiratorial slide along the bench to divulge the same secret to a different confidante. It's a dance to the music of text. Act Without Words II indulges in visual cross-references between Godot's tramps and two men (A & B) locked in parallel but polarised repetitions of their slow/fast daily routines. Pat Kinevane and Conor Lovett mime magnificently; the radiophonic music and the mechan-ical prod which jolts the men out of their sack-cocoons and into life wouldn't be out of place in a 1950s B-movie.

Play, the one with a man and two women encased in large urns and prompted to speak by a spotlight, is a masterpiece of narrative economics. The excellent cast - wronged wife (Ingrid Craigie), adulterous husband (Gerard McSorley) and bitter mistress (Ali White) - bring a painful truth to their talking heads. The text is so dense, sharp and perceptive that you want - need - to hear it again. Beckett obliges. But the second time - you didn't think they'd get up and walk away, did you? - the same intercut, truncated lines, delivered in the same rapid monotone, have a different effect. The pettiness becomes vindictiveness; the justifications are hollow and futile. It's not that we know the end - there is none. But its repetition is their end.

Beckett Festival: Barbican, EC1 (0171 638 8891), to 18 Sept. 'Godot': today & 12 Sept

EXIT POLL: views from the Beckett festival

DONALD CLARKE, 55

The second half was better than the first - the actors warmed up and communicated more closely with the audience. It was an old audience which does affect the actors. When I last saw the play the character that comes on with the whip was dressed up in fox-hunting gear which really worked, but this one was not aggressive enough.

RITA PITT

Vladimir looked too cheerful and I can't imagine someone in his position having so much life in him. But his use of language was absolutely extraordinary, although I had the impression that it was played too much for laughs. I found it smiling-funny rather than laughing-funny. Splendid overall though.

PATSY TRENCH, 55

I thought it was slightly low on energy and soporific. Maybe that was to do with the size of the stage, and also that the audience wasn't responding as much as it might have. It was all a bit low-key. There were some lovely moments and it certainly lent itself to Irish actors. But this performance needed an extra spark.

SIOBHAIN MCCARTHY, 28

It was the first time I'd seen the play and I didn't know what to expect. It was like a brass rubbing - things you've always known are there are brought to the surface. I thought the humour was very Irish - the banter and the mannerisms. The simplicity of the staging allowed you to focus totally on the characters and their rambling.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor