Waiting for Godot


Waiting for Godot theatre review (Sydney Theatre)

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Sydney Theatre Company artistic director Andrew Upton has given us his best work with this production of Waiting For Godot. The Hungarian director Tamas Ascher, who directed the STC’s Uncle Vanya in 2010, pulled out of the production because of a neck injury and Upton was thrust into the directing role. When the production’s two leads are Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh, one suspects Upton mightn’t have had to do too much beyond telling them where to stand.
Weaving is Vladimir, better-known as Didi; Roxburgh is Estragon, or Gogo. Costume designer Alice Babidge has clad them in rags: not so stylised they lack street cred, nor so tattered they lack a semblance of theatrical licence. Zsolt Khell’s set design is, essentially, a theatre within a theatre; a conceit I’m still trying to decipher. All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players, perhaps?
Didi and Gogo are sleeping rough. The world is in a dilapidated state; black, bleak and grubby, with few signs of life; a broken wall, dead tree trunk and a graveyard of stumps. The calamity, and beauty of this environment is that, on the one hand, the most meagre hint of growth is cherished, while, at the same time, there’s a propensity, through acclimation, to cease looking for and never seeing new shoots.
Lighting designer Nick Schlieper has lit this world with a kind of cold, grey, facing light, permeated here and there, perhaps, by a faint orange tinge. Every so often, there’s an emanation from Didi; a little ray of sunshine that warms he and his loyal companion. Max Lyandvert’s interventions as sound designer could hardly be less interventionist.
For those familiar with Waiting For Godot, the laughs begin almost before the play does, as we anticipate Gogo trying desperately to remove his obstinate boot, almost bursting a blood-vessel in the process. After a valiant effort, he famously declares, ‘nothing to be done’.
It’s a moment that’s emblematic of the entire play. First of all, it’s funny, but Beckett’s genius here transcends the work’s humour.  While keeping a momentum of gentle amusement throughout, there is an ever-present undercurrent of deeply affecting sadness and there’s not a better example than in these first minutes. Gogo wants change, or he wants out. He can no longer bear the boots he’s wearing, yet he must. They’re his. This is his lot.
Upton and his cast have locked-on to the essence of the play. Roxburgh’s comic timing and sensibility is spot on and as the tired, glass-half-empty member of the duo, he calibrates his performance incisively. Both he and Weaving are so comfortable in front of a large audience they’re able to focus absolutely on the finer points of their respective performances, down to the meter of their speech and their pauses. Weaving is masterful: we see the cogs of Didi’s mind turning, mustering the hint of inspiration both he and Gogo need to go on just one more day. It’s the only way in which their lives can be measured. And so they must wait. And it’s as well they wait for a fictional saviour like Godot.
Godot never comes, only the circus-like, Fellini-esque Lucky (Luke Mullins) & Pozzo (Philip Quast). Lucky, his name the epitome of irony, is a broken man, enslaved by pointless baggage. He’s carrying a suitcase full of sand. Pozzo may have him on the end of a rope and routinely address him as ‘Pig!’, but it’s Lucky who picks up the rope if it’s dropped.
Mullins is excellent as the mostly wordless minion, but it’s Quast that truly fills every inch of his larger-than-life character, beaming and booming Pozzo’s overbearing personality such that it expands, balloon-like, and almost explodes, to fill the hearts and minds of an appreciative audience. It may well be the crowning performance of Quast’s career and the fact that he’s positively luminous, even in this esteemed company, is a guide to just how good he is.
Upton, STC and this cast have really got Godot. It has been well worth the wait.
That’s what we thought. Read what the other critics say.
[box]Waiting for Godot plays Sydney Theatre until 21 December. Tickets are available via Sydney Theatre Company. [/box]

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