Ambassador Review – Waiting for Godot

What are you waiting for?

Waiting for Godot 
Written by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Ross Jolly
at Circa Theatre until 1 June 2019
Reviewed by Maddie, Wellington Home Education Network

Waiting for Godot is one of those play names you often hear bandied around. Any version of the famous (some would say infamous) mid-century play has a lot to live up to, but Ross Jolly’s production certainly does.

While it deals with the subject matter through an absurdist lens, I think what makes this play so captivating to watch is that it is fundamentally human in nature.

We can all relate to the feeling of waiting. Samuel Beckett uses that to his advantage, immediately placing us in the shoes of Vladimir (Andrew Foster) and Estragon (Jeff Kingsford-Brown) as they wait for someone, or something, that may never come.

The play thrives in the grey area between a humorous tragedy, and a dark comedy, and all of the performers tread that line very cleverly. Their exchanges switch back and forth between existential crisis and childish games continuously throughout the piece, and the actors handle both with great skill, taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster over the two hour duration of the play. I found that the young audience members in particular seemed to have a strong response to the piece, and I was left wondering why that might be.

Did the play strike a chord with my generation because we know that we can’t simply wait for something to change? Did we find it funny because young people can see the childishness within adults much clearer than other adults can? Or do young people not feel that same pressure to be ‘proper’ at the theatre? I am still not entirely sure, but elicit a response it did all the same.

If the character of Vladimir is what pulls the audience into the story with his direct address and existential musings (Foster’s delivery of his lines is fresh and witty), then we are held there by Estragon’s humour and adorable carrot munching (Kingsford-Brown has a wonderful handle on the physicality of his character). Together these two actors form an unbeatable, very human comic/tragic duo, and their onstage camaraderie echoes the very comfortable relationship that the characters have.

While these two actors have to do lots of heavy lifting in terms of stage time, the other performers are just as captivating. Peter Hambleton and Jack Buchanan’s Pozzo and Lucky burst onto the scene part way through act one, and again in act two, providing Vladimir and Estragon with some much needed distraction from their waiting.

The choice to cast a much younger actor in the role of Lucky is an effective one, and makes their master and servant relationship very interesting. With Lucky dressed in his very punk attire, next to Pozzo’s tweed suit, is it a comment on an older generation trying to control a younger one, or is the enslaved Lucky a metaphor for the downtrodden? Buchanan plays the part of Lucky superbly, and I know I felt a twang of pain as Pozzo literally stamps out his free will with the line “That’s an end to his thinking”.

Pozzo is not a particularly likeable character to start out with, pompous, with little or no regard for anyone else, however, Hambleton’s portrayal is an extremely deft one, leaving you feeling an uneasy sense of pity for him by the time he leaves stage. He had great connection with the audience, and was a very engaging character to watch.

The final character, a goat herd who brings a message from Godot, known only as The Boy, is performed by Alex Buyck and Alex Usher on alternating nights, both of whom hold their own alongside the adult actors surrounding them.

Aside from the actors, I also have to give a huge hand to the visual design of the production, which was just superb. Marcus McShane’s powerful lighting illuminates Andrew Foster’s barren, war torn set, and casts eerie shadows against the high concrete walls that enclose the stage (Foster is a multi-talented individual, also appearing onstage as Vladimir). Sheila Horton’s costumes leave the characters stuck outside of time, reminiscent of many periods, but belonging to none, which helps to heighten the timelessness of the piece. The show really was something to behold.

Get along to Circa before 1 June to catch this compelling and thought provoking show.
As they say in the show “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.” Awfully good I’d say, so what are you waiting for?