sat 25/05/2024

Waiting For Godot, Arcola Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Waiting For Godot, Arcola Theatre

Waiting For Godot, Arcola Theatre

Totally Tom duo bring new comedy to Beckett

Tom Stourton (left) as Estragon and Tom Palmer as Vladimir in a "reimagined" Waiting For GodotChloe Wicks

Waiting For Godot is one of those plays which even those who have never seen know something about. “A tragicomedy in two acts,” as Beckett's subtitle described it, in which two tramps in bowler hats blether on about boots and a bloke who never appears, and where, in Irish critic Vivian Mercer's immortal words, “nothing happens twice”. And if they know nothing else about it, they surely can quote the play's most famous line: "We give birth astride of a grave."

Now comes Simon Dormandy's “reimagined” version aimed at a younger audience. Out go the bowler hats and in come baseball caps, one of several liberties taken with Beckett's script and precise stage directions (how did the director get them past the normally hyper-strict Beckett estate, one wonders?). Incidentally the programme notes remind us that Beckett sent no fewer than 59 correction notes when he saw the first UK production – by the 24-year-old Peter Hall at the Arts Theatre in London in 1955.

Dormandy's Estragon and Vladimir are two of his former pupils at Eton College, where he was once head of drama - Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer respectively - who together are the wonderfully talented sketch duo Totally Tom. It's apt casting, as Beckett loved music hall, and there is much dark comedy in his deeply humane play about the futility of existence.

At 26, they are considerably younger than most pairings of Gogo and Didi. In 2009 in London the characters were played by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (the latter replaced by Roger Rees) several decades the duo's senior, while fellow comics Barry Humphries and Peter O'Shaughnessy, Robin Williams and Steve Martin, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson were all considerably older than them when they donned the tramps' clothing.

Their youth and comedic talents might have added much liveliness to proceedings, but Dormandy's sometimes ponderous production doesn't capitalise on these as much as it could. There's the occasional spark, though; in the first-act dance Estragon channels Black Eyed Peas' "Do It Like This", while in the second act Didi and Gogo have a lengthy exchange as if in a Call of Duty-style video game.

Stourton, sporting a faultless Irish accent, seems more relaxed in his role than his partner, but there was little pathos hinted at by either as two young men who ultimately refuse to be broken by their pointless lives and live another day, waiting for Godot. It's an existence in which the stretching out of small tasks – taking off and putting on Estragon's boots, assessing whether a tree would take their weight should they decide to hang themselves - helps them while away the endless hours.

When the other, no less important, pairing of Pozzo and Lucky (pictured on left, above) are on stage the energy lifts. Jonathan Oliver's Pozzo is full of menacing bombast, herding the unfortunately named Lucky with a long whip like a malevolent ringmaster. Michael Roberts, as the downtrodden and mostly mute beast of burden, gives a superb rendition of his one, long speech about God and religion, seemingly a stream of consciousness, but technically one of the most difficult for an actor to pull off.

Adam Charteris is a nicely menacing Boy and Patrick Kinmonth's rubble-strewn set is evocative, although some sightlines are unfortunate and Dormandy never makes full use of it.

  • Waiting for Godot at Arcola Theatre until 14 June

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