Waiting and Waiting: Review of Riverside Lyric Ensemble’s Waiting for Godot
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953) is one of the most famous plays of the twentieth century but to recap, the audience follows Vladimir and Estragon, two tramps, waiting by a tree for Mr Godot. It is implied that upon his arrival, Godot will cause an improvement to their situation. Spoiler alert: he never shows up. The play stands as both a comedic exploration of the waiting process, and a tragic examination of continually deferred hope. For a simple story it is loaded with meaning that allows for multiple readings: religion, memory, habit, companionship, torture, distraction, and like a true masterpiece the themes are interwoven to create a single portrayal of the human experience (at least from Beckett’s perspective).
For all that Waiting for Godot can be something of an actor’s nightmare: two acts that mirror each other, a plot that doesn’t progress and lines that are interchangeable between characters. The play also walks that delicate line between tragedy and comedy; hitting that perfect balance is no small ask. It would be very easy to mount a production of Godot that didn’t do the play justice, and unfortunately the Riverside Lyric Ensemble has done just that.
In the program director Cameron Malcher has pointed out that the comedy is inherent in the play and consequently he has tried to milk all of these moments to offset the bleaker more nihilistic undercurrents within the piece. This is a fairly common approach to take, and Beckett was in tune to such themes, so they are there to be milked, and should be. Without doing so the play can become stagnant. Let’s face it: nothing really happens, so we need something to distract our minds from the fact, just as Estragon and Vladimir do. The only problem is that the laughs are very far and few between in this production, and as a result it too stagnates. The actors are all trying their hardest to get the laughs, but unfortunately it’s just over done. Alas, this is not the only acting problem with this production.
David Attrill plays the cerebral Vladimir though he often appeared too thoughtful next to his rather terse counterpart. Attrill certainly had a wonderful stage voice, which he used marvellously in the space. Potentially however, this was to the detriment of its comedy – billed as the centrepiece to this production. Attrill initially appeared a beat behind the joke, though this lessened as the show wore on.
The more instinctual Estragon was played by Errol Henderson, who could have easily been Richard Roxburgh’s stunt double. Henderson produced a more rounded character, though he occasionally spent precious time searching for an out of reach joke. Generally though, Henderson gave a perfectly credible performance. Working as a pair the two didn’t quite make us feel the very touching relationship that Didi and Gogo are supposed to share, although this is probably the most difficult part of the performance to nail.
Now, whilst Estragon and Vladamir are joking, bickering and musing on the profound, their shared test of endurance is interrupted by the overbearing Pozzo and the hapless Lucky. Pozzo (Erica J. Brennan) was unfortunately underwhelming in this production. Although she tried hard, Brennan had most things working against her, namely by being cast in a role that requires a dominating masculine presence. It just didn’t work.
Interestingly, if director Cameron Malcher had inverted the roles of Pozzo and Lucky (Brennan playing Lucky and vice versa) it may have produced a more successful take on the characters. As it was, Clive Hobson towered over Brennan as the sobbing servant, and it was an awkward premise to accept that she was his lord and master. Hobson was quite impressive during Lucky’s infamous monologue, producing a rather different take on the nonsensical dialogue. Whilst acknowledging that his impressive voice could have been used elsewhere as Pozzo, Hobson didn’t seem to convince us enough that he was struggling for life under the constant and enormous pressure of his whip-cracking owner.
This cast was a mixed bag, and it lacked the tight ensemble feel required for such a difficult text. They generally tried too hard for the cheap gag, which too often fell short.
It is a shame that this production isn’t able to live up the legend that surrounds the play, because it is evident that a lot of work has gone into its staging. Waiting for Godot is playing until the 7th of March at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. For more information is:
For a comparison to the Sydney Theatre Company’s recent production of Waiting for Godot, and a discussion of the play’s themes, follow the link to our previous review: