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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Nothing to be done – Godot revisited

We grabbed another chance to see Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, presented by the Old Bomb Theatre at York Theatre Royal and directed by Cecily Boys.

Early evening, a country road, a tree.

Nobody comes and nobody goes…

Old friends Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot, but who is he? What has he to offer?

Sometimes hilariously funny, sometimes deeply sad, Samuel Beckett’s play was voted the most significant English language play of the 20th Century in the National Theatre’s millennium poll. It was first produced in London in 1955.

Beckett - NothingEstragon and Vladimir are enigmas, often regarded as two tramps, and always reminiscent of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. But they are also accompanied by undertones of France during the German occupation of the Second World war, the Resistance, the uncertainty about almost everything. We learn that Godot has the power of redemption, but also that the pair will be punished if they fail to be at the appointed meeting place.

For some reason the theatre company or director decided to give Paul Stonehouse (Gogo) and Paul Osborne (Didi), Irish accents, which seems incongruous in the face of obvious references to France throughout the text. I suppose one could argue that Ireland was also an occupied country, but still the overall effect of the accents seems wrong. That said, the couple work very hard at their roles and are never less than satisfactory.

The play is, above all else, about waiting, and we are never left to doubt that that is exactly what they are doing. Beckett’s alchemy somehow lets us know that, although Gogo and Didi are both trapped in their imaginary world, the actors playing them are also trapped, absolutely unable to walk away from the roles until they have gone through their motions.

Everyone is waiting, the characters, the players, and the audience, and we are also aware that the rest of humanity is doing exactly the same thing, waiting for crops to grow, waiting for rain, waiting for the revolution, or Jesus, or the fulfilment of the Prophet’s promises. Children are waiting to grow up, and the elderly waiting to die. The terminally ill waiting for a cure and most everyone else waiting for their numbers to come up in the Lottery. It seems we are incapable of accepting whatever is here now.

The opening line of Waiting for Godot is: ‘Nothing to be done.’ Spoken by Estragon when he fails to remove his boot. And the line is repeated at intervals during the play and could be said to be one of the main ideas behind the script. Beckett keeps everything wonderfully simple, and this metaphor, that sometimes you can’t get your boots off and sometimes you can, and there is no way of knowing why or when and Nothing to be done about it, tolls away in the recesses of consciousness while the players are on stage.

Osborne and Stonehouse, together with the other actors in the play have taken leading roles in productions by York Settlement Players and other local theatre companies, but this production marks the first time they have acted together. Let’s hope it’s not the last.

Best line? Goodness, there are so many. But how’s this?

Pozzo: I don’t seem to be able . . . (long hesitation) . . . to depart.
Estragon: Such is life.

6 Responses to “Nothing to be done – Godot revisited”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    It’s a play I never tire of and one I have studied in depth. I spent six weeks last year rewriting the dire Wikipedia article on it and there’s not much I’ve haven’t known about the writing and production of it not that I can remember a fraction of it any more. Damn memory! You are right about the accents – the script does not specify any – and the last time I saw it in Glasgow they used Glaswegian accents to good effect. (As an aside I saw the late Russell Hunter play Krapp at the Tron in 2000. We had front row seats. He was fantastic.)

    My lovely wife arranged for a nice lady in France to rattle off a couple of Didi and Gogo rag dolls a couple of years back and the following year she cut up a pair of old shoes and made Estragon his boots. Clever wife. (‘Rag doll’ doesn’t really do them justice – they’re about 10″ tall and have pride of place in my office).

    I even had the gall a few years back to write a sequel, ‘Vladimir and Estragon are Dead’, set in limbo but I’ve never had the balls to try and do anything with it. I sent it to a Harvard professor I got into conversation with last year. I mailed him a copy of Pinter’s Krapp to show his students and he read my play in return. He didn’t rip it to sheds so I suppose that was something.

    jb says
    : Thanks, Jim, It would have been nice to see that production of Krapp, but there you go, nothing to be done. You should try to do something with Vladimir and Estragon are Dead, keep it in the post, times change, people and ideas change, it’s time will come around.

  2. Dick says:

    I can remember my parents going to the first UK production at the Arts Theatre in 1955. They kept me awake into the small hours arguing about it, my father raving, my mother uncomprehending.

    ‘Estragon (spoken to Vladimir in a fury): Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he [Lucky] went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer, and more to himself) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.’

    jb says: Hi Dick. Why are we here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.

  3. Tommi says:

    Lovely post. Nice write-up about a great piece of humanity. I agree with almost everything you write here. But more than not I wish to disagree with the whole waiting thing…
    When I moved to Germany in the late 1980s Beckett was producing End Game in Berlin. I just missed a chance to meet him. Yeah, I’m still waiting…
    (I’m drunk on Tuscan wine right now and listening to The Wanton Song by Led Zepplin; next up is In My Time Of Dying.)
    Without this play I probably would have never made it through my twenties. But I’m over Beckett now.
    I think.
    You forgot the significance of the child (boy) at the end of the play. How the young boy enters and he always seemed to me the only character never really waiting for anything.
    Yeah, that child…
    Thanks.
    Tommi

    jb says: Tuscan wine, eh? Well I do remember wrapping myself around a Chianti Classico, so often at one time I can’t remember who I missed.

  4. Mat says:

    Just writing an essay on this and i stumbled upon your blog…

    It’s been incredibly useful, but i noticed something and i thought I’d tell you…

    The Irish accents are used because phrases like “Get up till I embrace you.” suggest that sort of region, although it’s not specified it is often interpreted, as in the dvd…

    Anyway cheers for the help…

    jb says: That’s all good stuff, Mat. Thanks for telling us . . .

  5. […] April 30, the play moves to the Theatre Royal Haymarket. I had more to say about the script in my last review. POZZO: (suddenly furious.) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed […]

  6. ps says:

    I played estragon in this production and i would just say that the choice of accent is obviously a very personal one but when reading the play and hearing it outloud so many of the of the phrases sounded “irish” that we felt that was the most appropriate choice. it was written in french but by an Irishman.