IT'S NOT often you have to single out the part played by the wooden planks of the stage for praise. But at the Piccadilly Theatre they perform a key role. Peter Hall had to move his rep company from the Old Vic - when Ed Mirvish put the building up for sale - and has brought it to the West End. The moment you enter the auditorium you know the move is for the best. The Piccadilly is another big theatre, but it's been cleverly reconfigured. The producer, Bill Kenwright, has taken out 76 seats and put a T-aisle in the centre of the stalls. He's taken out a row at the front and covered the orchestra pit. The stage now slopes down towards the first few rows. It reaches so low that if it went any further it would resemble the back end of a cross-channel ferry and we could drive cars up on to it.

If this sounds technical, front-of-house stuff, the aesthetic knock-on is big. Hall has bravely chosen to open his new season with a recast revival of last year's Waiting For Godot. The new intimacy provided by the Piccadilly allows him to maximimise to tremendous effect one aspect of Beckett's writing. It makes this year's Godot even better than the last one.

The Old Vic was a tricky venue for a rep season: particularly one which included new, slight plays. In Godot even, which is neither new nor slight, Ben Kingsley and Alan Howard could appear remote. Here, the new Vladimir and Estragon - Alan Dobie and Julian Glover - are free to amble so far downstage they could take a peek at our programmes. They head to the edge of the stage, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, like first cousins of Morecombe and Wise. They peer out at us. "Inspiring prospects," says Estragon. People worry endlessly about the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon. They don't worry enough about their relationship with the audience.

In Hall's revival Dobie and Glover are a jaunty bantering duo, a veteranshowbiz act as frayed, crumpled and fading as their clothes. The end-of-the-pier atmosphere confirms the play's roots in vaudeville. The dialogue comes over as a series of routines. With Dobie as Estragon, there are echoes too of the inspired nonsense peddled by Lear's Fool - whom Dobie played for Hall last year. "That passed the time," says Vladimir or Estragon, after an interruption. "It would have passed in any case," says the other. "Yes, but not so rapidly." The audience are in on the joke. The audience are the joke.

Hall takes the classic text of the century - one he premiered here in 1955 - and banishes solemnity and dusty footnotes in favour of more laughs than your average West End comedy. The paradoxes and reversals, the switches between grandiloquence and under-statement are caught with a beautiful snappiness. Line after line is quick, light and profound. And the more Godot survives on its unsentimental humour, the more moving it is.

The spry Dobie is superb as Estragon, bringing an irritable self-absorbed energy, whether chomping on a chicken leg or circling the stage for the one place to sit. He's nimble and restless as he taunts and needles his companion. The taller, leaner Glover, with downturned mouth, and plaintive asides, comes over as the essential straight man to the childish wheedling of Dobie. They are a long-term couple who've heard all the gambits before. There's also an exquisitely self-dramatising Pozzo from Terence Rigby, a rubicund clubland figure in his brightly checked waistcoat and watchchain, excellently matched by Struan Rodger as the salivating Lucky, the picture of anguished powerlessness. In its own way, Beckett's savage bleakness seems very loveable.

"Four Corners" at the Donmar Warehouse is a "concept" season that runs for a month, where the Donmar hosts four plays from around the country, and each one runs for a week. In a Little World of Our Own, by the National Theatre's new writer-in-residence, Gary Mitchell, takes place in the living room of a family of Ulster Protestants. The mother is upstairs, ill and never seen. There are three brothers: the lean, conventional one (Paul Hickey) is about to get married to prim, Bible-clutching Deborah (Helen McCrory), the tough-nut Ray (Stuart Graham) is a loyalist bigot who is fiercely protective of his youngest brother, Richard (Colin Farrell), who is retarded. On the night of a party, a girl whom the youngest brother fancies leaves the party with a Catholic boy. She is found beaten up. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to guess the who and why. The real suspense is wondering when Mitchell will decide to tell us. But the simmering violence in the family arguments are thrillingly orchestrated by director Robert Delamere, who is well-served by his strong cast - not least by Lorcan Cranitch's shifty, unprepossessing Walter, shuffling round in his parka with growing menace. If Mitchell's talent for dialogue isn't matched by a gift for staging - you could close your eyes for most of this - the cross-examinations in the living room are done with a zeal that Rattigan would have recognised.

It was far better than the second production, Tell Me, a mixed-media event from Northern Stage. The trouble with TV on stage, apart from the way it breaks the energy actors that create between themselves, is that it reminds you what you could be watching at home. Or it makes you want to switch channels. Matthew Dunster's unrelenting and uncompromising script centres on a deeply problematic family. The husband loathes the wife and tells horrible jokes. The wife is a cartoon-figure of repressed nervousness. One hyperactive brother quotes from Revelations and Lou Reed, and picks up the phone to talk to Bob Geldof. The other brother is severely disabled, and twitches and quivers on the sofa. The traumas are in-yer-face and up-yer-nose. This is 80 minutes of strident solemnity. Each stage action has a closed, hectoring deliberateness. The sheer narrowness of the language is suffocating. Outside, it's raining, then inside water gushes down. Downstage, a goldfish circles nonchalantly round a bowl. I envied its indifference.

'Waiting For Godot': Piccadilly, W1 (0171 369 1734), in rep. 'Four Corners': Donmar, WC2 (0171 369 1732), to 28 Mar.

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