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.
Estragon 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.