Waiting for Godot

There are many good reasons for launching the celebratory 50th anniversary season of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre Company with a new production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The still-controversial work was barely more than a decade old when the building's current incarnation launched with A Servant o’ Twa Maisters, a Scottish adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s famous play. More importantly (at least in terms of the box-office), it proved a sufficient lure to bring award-winning stage and screen actors Brian Cox (a founding member of the company in 1965) and Bill Patterson back to the Lyceum’s stage.

Burly Cox is full of energy and enthusiasm, albeit with the gait of a small boy fearful of having been caught scrumping apples; in contrast, the more lugubrious Paterson inspires genuine sympathy for this worn down man with ill-fitting boots who wants nothing more than to curl up and hide from the world

As down-at-heals Vladimir and Estragon – waiting by a tree in the middle of nowhere for the never seen Godot – Cox and Paterson are undoubtedly a well-matched odd-couple. Burly Cox is full of energy and enthusiasm, albeit with the gait of a small boy fearful of having been caught scrumping apples; in contrast, the more lugubrious Paterson inspires genuine sympathy for this worn down man with ill-fitting boots who wants nothing more than to curl up and hide from the world, and yet can’t keep away from his bumptious friend of some 50 years. To their credit, Cox and Paterson ensure that these down-at-heal tramps are no abstracted Laurel and Hardy, holding back sufficiently on the more overt vaudeville aspects of the work to remind us of the humanity found in these two old men.

Importantly, director Mark Thomson – for whom this celebratory season marks his swan song as the company’s Artistic Director – doesn’t simply let this production slip into a star vehicle. Yes, Cox and Patterson dominate the posters currently plastered around Edinburgh, and have been doing most of the media interviews, but this Waiting for Godot is much more of an ensemble piece than you’d expect. As soon as he appears – riding crop in hand, dressed head-to-toe in expensively tailored black –John Bett simply dominates the stage as the itinerant Pozzo, the upper class master of the ill-named Lucky (played with a sufficiently restrained rigidity by Benny Young). Bett’s Pozzo is, without doubt, the character who most thinks the entire play is about him, and even Vladimir and Estragon fade somewhat in the glare of his sense of entitlement.

Who or what Waiting for Godot is about has been the question on many people’s lips since the play was first performed. You can argue that Beckett is good with post-modern answers: “Nobody comes. Nobody goes. Nothing happens. It’s awful,” says Estragon, not-at-all about the play he’s in. “I’ve been better entertained,” admits Vladimir. What’s gratifying is that Thomson’s clean take on Beckett’s most infamous play makes at least one thing abundantly clear: “One is what one is.” Michael Taylor’s brilliantly simple set, which successfully utilises the deceptive depth of the Lyceum’s stage, underscores the wilderness in which these characters find themselves. Combined with Mark Doubleday’s unfussy lighting, the result is a production that certainly gets the Lyceum’s 50th anniversary off to a flying start.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

“What are we doing here? That is the question”

Two of Scotland’s great stage actors – Brian Cox and Bill Paterson – star as Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s masterly black comedy. On a bare country road, by a single tree, two down-and-out friends meet at dusk to await the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Godot. As they wait, they pass the time laughing at who they are, arguing over what little they have and speculating on the meaning of life. Their predicament would be absurd were it not so familiar. In the 60 years since its first UK performance, Waiting for Godot has proved itself one of modern theatre’s great masterpieces. Deadly serious yet seriously funny, this elusive play continues to provide delightfully entertaining food for thought. This exclusive three week run marks the 50th anniversary of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company.

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