Theatre Review: What ARE We Waiting For?


Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel Beckett; produced by Arcola Theatre: seen June 12, 2014

Scholars have been pondering the meaning behind Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot almost since the play was written. Is Godot God, and Vladimir and Estragon actually trapped in purgatory (potentially the two thieves crucified with Christ) waiting to be let into Heaven? Or are they manifestations of Laurel and Hardy in a comic journey through the world? Or is it just two characters along a country road waiting for a third member of their party?

Beckett himself was notorious in not clarifying any meaning behind the existential play. The text itself is very sparse, giving limited descriptions of the set and characters. In the book Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett by Barney Rosset, Beckett is quoted as saying, “I told [Sir Ralph Richardson] that all I knew about Pozzo was in the text, that if I had known more I would have put it in the text, and that was true also of the other characters.”

As a result, each production takes on it’s own interpretation of the text – far more than many other plays. The Arcola Theatre production seemed to take on a revolutionary standpoint, giving Vladimir (Tom Palmer) an almost Castro-esque look in costume and stance. Meanwhile, Estragon (Tom Stourton) is a bit of a man-child as he plays around, humming, “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” in moments of silence. A pile of broken bricks next to a fallen wall gives the set a post-apocalypse world feel to it, making Estragon’s worry about boots and food mean more than just a simple idea of not having the money for it.

Jonathan Oliver’s Pozzo is played with flair, dressed as a ringmaster just looking for the right circus, every move calculated for theatricality. Lucky (Michael Roberts) is older than I’ve seen in other productions, played more as someone who is most likely mentally challenged. Rounding out the cast is Adam Charteris, playing the Boy with a creepy sense of knowing far too much of what is really going on, with a bit of a Russian accent.

Tom Palmer as Vladimir and Tom Stourton as Estragon. Photo courtesy Arcola Theatre
Tom Palmer as Vladimir and Tom Stourton as Estragon. Photo courtesy Arcola Theatre

The first half of the play seemed to drag a bit, but that may have been due to it being two days from closing. However, the second act revved up, with Vladimir’s character seemingly finally giving up that they’ll ever run into Godot, but also knowing that there isn’t much else the two can do.

But it was the constant forgetfulness of Estragon that made me think of a way I’d like to do it, assuming Beckett’s estate would give permission. (They are notorious for being very strict in how productions of Beckett’s plays are performed.)

Estragon’s constant unclarity as to what is going on reminded me of a friend I have who has Alzheimer’s, and I thought it would be interesting to set the play in a psychiatric ward. Estragon would be the Alzheimer’s patient, Pozzo could easily be played as a psychopath, with Lucky someone who is autistic. Vladimir would be the only sane man slowly going insane, with the Boy being that orderly that always seems to enjoy ‘playing’ with the patients.

I believe it would still leave up to interpretation who Godot is (the primary doctor? a family member? another patient who is off in therapy?), as well as being open to what exactly is going on. (Is Vladimir really the only sane man, or is he someone who’s delusional and just one of the many?) In fact, I have a feeling this interpretation probably has been done already, but it’s still one that I would find interesting.

After all, the point of Waiting for Godot is, like existentialism itself, open to interpretation. What are we waiting for? One may never know.

While Waiting for Godot has closed at the Arcola Theatre, you can check out what else they are doing over on their website.