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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Worth the Wait? Godot in Leeds.

 Waiting for Godot

(suddenly furious.) 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 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.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

We were at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds to see their production of Waiting for Godot with Ian Brown directing the Talawa Theatre Company‘s all Black cast.

The play has been produced with an all-Black cast several times before, though this is the first time in the UK. The text, however, is so strong and so insistent that before ten minutes of the first act had passed the skin colour of the players had become insignificant. The main duo chatter away in authentic Carribean accents, but again, this does not affect the audiences interpretation of the play. I have seen productions with Irish, Scottish, French, American and English accents, but I can’t honestly claim that any of these have improved my enjoyment or understanding of the text,

Nevertheless, the cast is a strong one and they push the play forward with tremendous energy and skill. If I had to single out a performance to tip the scales, it would be Guy Burgess’s portrayal of Lucky. But this is to take nothing away from the other players and the director, all of whom should be rightfully proud of their achievement.

This production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot reminded me of Beckett’s 1930 essay on Proust, where he demonstrates how time, habit, memory and salvation permeate À la recherche du temps perdu. The passing of time is a constant reminder of death, and as a way of by-passing this, Proust’s characters fall into everyday habits, repetition, boredom, distractions. This in turn can lead to the awakening of involuntary memory, and in that moment, the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being. Involuntary memory undoes time and habit. This is a kind of salvation.

Beckett is not only concerned with Proust, he is primarily concerned with his own influences and preoccupations and to work out an aesthetic manifesto on which to base his future preoccupations.

Time, habit, and memory are the concepts which underline Waiting for Godot, and there are multiple references to them in the play.

The other thing that came to mind while watching the performance was the recollection that Tennessee Williams called The Glass Menagerie a ‘memory play.’ Menagerie was written eight years before Godot and concentrates on a series of abandonments, but it also has everyone in the cast and the audience ‘waiting’, in this case for a gentleman caller. Perhaps Godot is also a ‘memory’ play in the same sense?

I don’t know who Godot is. I don’t even know (above all don’t know) if he exists. And I don’t know if they believe in him or not – those two who are waiting for him. The other two who pass by towards the end of each of the two acts, that must be to break up the monotony. All I knew I showed. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me, by a wide margin. I’ll even say that I would have been satisfied with less. As for wanting to find in all that a broader, loftier meaning to carry away from the performance, along with the program and the Eskimo pie, I cannot see the point of it. But it must be possible … Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, Lucky, their time and their space, I was able to know them a little, but far from the need to understand. Maybe they owe you explanations. Let them supply it. Without me. They and I are through with each other.
Samuel Beckett.

The play continues at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until the 25th February, then goes on tour to Albany Deptford London, Old Rep Birmingham, Theatre Royal Winchester and New Wolsey Ipswich.

Reviews of previous productions of this play are available here and here.

3 Responses to “Worth the Wait? Godot in Leeds.”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    I saw a clip on BBC Breakfast and had no problems with the accents either although, as you say, it would probably take a few minutes at an actual performance for me not to notice them. Like you I’ve heard actors from all over do the play. The hardest I found was a radio production where the cast were Canadians but it was not so much the accents it was the speed at which the lines were delivered; they quite jabbered their lines.

  2. john baker says:

    The play is quite brilliant, Jim. I’ve never seen a production that wasn’t riveting in one way or another.

  3. Shelley says:

    Has there ever been a more lovely visual for Godot?