Waiting for Godot
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jacob Richmond
Blue Bridge at the Roxy
March 3 – 15
Reviewed by Joy Fisher
When Waiting for Godot premiered in England in 1955, the director, Peter Hall, admitted he wasn’t sure what it was about. Nor was the audience. Some people loved the play; others walked out. Critics gave it mixed reviews.
Samuel Beckett famously refused to discuss the question, but, over the years, he did drop a few hints. When Beckett directed his play in 1975, he explained to his young assistant director that everything in it was “a game in order to survive.” He also once told an actor in the cast that it was “all symbiosis.”
The primary symbiotic pair in this tragicomedy consists of Vladimir and Estragon, two aging men down on their luck, who are waiting, endlessly it seems, for the appearance of a mysterious character named Godot, who never comes. As is true in many symbiotic relationships, these characters differ markedly, but they depend on each other and their relationship is mutually beneficial. Vladimir, as played in the Blue Bridge production by Vancouver-based actor Peter Anderson, is tall and thin, and Estragon, played by Victoria’s own Brian Linds, shorter and round. Vladimir is contemplative, Estragon intuitive. Vladimir is appalled when Estragon, seemingly shameless, solicits another character for money. But they have been together for 50 years, call each other “Didi” and “Gogo,” bicker like an old married couple, and finish each other’s sentences. They turn to each other for affection and brace each other through the endless waiting with games and diversions that often echo early comedy acts such as Laurel and Hardy. (They even wear bowler hats.) Anderson and Linds may not play the roles with quite the same verve as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan did on Broadway in 2013, but their performances are nevertheless emotionally affecting.
Though Vladimir and Estragon traditionally get top billing, there is another symbiotic pair in this tragicomedy: Pozzo and Lucky. While Vladimir and Estragon are grounded in the human condition (Vladimir suffers from prostate problems; Estragon has feet so swollen he can only remove his shoes with difficulty), Pozzo and Lucky expand into metaphor. Pozzo, played by Scott Hylands as a whip-wielding tyrant who drives Lucky by a rope around his neck, and Lucky, played by Trevor Hinton as a thoroughly beaten-down, drooling slave, nearly steal the show. Even Vladimir and Estragon can’t take their eyes off Lucky as Pozzo puts him through his paces, commanding him to dance and then to “think” aloud. It’s not until Act Two, when Pozzo and Lucky return, that the symbiotic nature of their relationship is made clear. Pozzo, now blind, and Lucky, now dumb, are still tethered together, but now the rope is shorter and Lucky uses it to guide Pozzo on their way.
And what of Godot (pronounced, we learn, “GOD-oh”)? Beckett swore he was not intended to be a God figure, despite the name. But it isn’t the name, so much as the act of waiting that is important in this play, the endless waiting in an utterly barren landscape where the only sign of natural life is five leaves that miraculously appear on a denuded tree at the beginning of Act Two. (Regrettably, the absence of a curtain in this production spoiled the miracle because a stage hand had to stick the leaves on the bare branches in plain view of the audience during intermission.)
Waiting for Godot emerged from theatre of the absurd, which posited that, while inherent meaning might very well exist in the universe, human beings are incapable of finding it and are thus doomed to the absolute absurdity of existence without intrinsic purpose—a frightful prospect. I was puzzled when the play opened to the lush strains of “Moonlight Sonata.” This music seemed so inappropriate for the sterile landscape and harsh existential theme. That it was the perfect choice became apparent as the play ended. The final tableau, a mastery of stage lighting designed by Rebekah Johnson, poses Di-Di and Go-Go silhouetted side-by-side against a full moon, reaching across the void to grasp each other’s hands. Waiting for Godot is not a play about despair; it is a play about the triumph of the human spirit.
Joy Fisher is a Victoria playwright and theatre lover.