In 1987, Samuel Beckett asked Michael Colgan to produce ‘Waiting for Godot’ at the Gate, and requested that Walter Asmus - his assistant director on the famous Schiller Theatre production - direct.
Hailed by the international press as “the definitive Godot”, this production has since toured all over the world, including China, Melbourne and Toronto, receiving unprecedented critical acclaim. It was also a central part of the Gate’s Beckett Festivals in Dublin (1991 and 2006), New York (1996) and London (1999 and 2006).
As part of the theatre’s 80th anniversary celebrations, the Gate’s acclaimed production of Waiting for Godot will tour to 40 venues across the 32 counties of Ireland, playing for one night only in each venue. The tour, which will also mark the 20th anniversary of this now legendary production, will include the original cast members.
(Borrowed – respectfully - from the Gate Theatre website)
Ever since I heard about this, I’ve been waiting for Godot to arrive.
I was quite disturbingly excited that this wonderful production would come and play in my local theatre – a place I know and love very well.
The Castlebar performance was sold out months in advance and the day itself did not disappoint.
From early morning the techies were in, shifting, building and lighting the simple-yet-deceptively-complex stage set. In the late afternoon, a series of parking spaces were cordoned off out on the street and a little later the ‘Godot Bus’ arrived with the cast on board.
These venerable actors are certainly traversing the country in some style. The huge bus is emblazoned with the iconic image from the production – Vladimir supplicant to the moon – and it was great to see a piece of theatre bring with it this level of buzz and excitement. Great? It was bloody amazing.
So I went to see the play and I really loved it. I really did. However I felt a bit strange afterward telling people how great I thought it was because the general vibe among the post-show audience was that it was ‘heavy’, ‘hard-to-follow’, ‘obtuse’ and/or ‘nothing happened.
This all surprised me. You see I’m not an intellectual guy – you’ll have picked that up if you’ve been visiting here for a while – I tend to gravitate towards ‘easy’, ‘entertaining’ things. Heavyweight tomes can leave me cold.
I just didn’t find Godot to be hard-going at all. I think it’s funny, moving, emotionally involving, touching, thoughtful, witty, smart, and fun… yes fun.
So when some people were busy telling me how bemused they were by it all, I initially thought I understood – I though they had brought all their prejudices into the theatre with them. They expected ‘tough-going’ and a ‘lack of incident’ and so that’s what they got.
I’ve changed my mind about that since. Upon ‘mature reflection’ as some of our politicians say.
Here’s what I think now:
I think I enjoyed it more because I’ve spent time with it over the last few years.
I was involved in a rehearsed reading of the play a few years ago – I played Estragon and we had a lot of fun with it and it went over pretty well with the full house. In boning-up for the part, I re-read the play many times and I also watched the Gate Production on DVD several times – the self-same production that has now played Castlebar.
My new theory is that my ‘little learning’ helped me enormously in enjoying the play on the night. It is a lesson I intend to remember.
The cast who came to give us the play were exemplary – and I mean exactly that. There was no weak link in that foursome.
But for me, having now seen it again, I am more convinced that ever that Godot is not an ensemble piece. For me Godot has a ‘hero’ – a central character. That hero is Vladimir. Even Estragon, who shares so much time with Vladimir seems dependent and somehow secondary to him.
Vladimir seems to me to be heroic – an ‘everyman’ lost in a meaningless world, looking out for redemption but never losing sight of the truth of the repetitive, time-killing, pointless nature of his existence.
When ever I go to see a play, I love to become engrossed in the ‘show’ but I also love to pull back the curtain of artifice afterward and learn as much as I can about how it was from the stage looking down into the audience.
I met the cast of Godot afterward (no great trick to that, anyone who wants to can do it) and I greatly enjoyed speaking briefly to them all. The actors impression of our Castlebar audience seemed (to me) to be that we were a quiet, slightly-unresponsive lot. I have to say that wasn’t my impression.
The production made use of enormous freezes in the action where everybody sits immobile and silent… and waits. In Castlebar the audience waited right along with them.
This impressed me quite a lot and I though it actually worked very well. I would imagine other audiences might have shuffled and giggled nervously at these moments – as time seemed to stop completely. But we were very well behaved – at least I think so anyway.
So – listen - if the Godot Bus comes up your road in the next few weeks, do flag it down and try to persuade it to stop for a night and play.
Finally, let me share this little titbit (are there any big titbits?) with you. My good friend Mary Carr passed this on to me.
Where does the name ‘Godot’ derive from?
Many people say it refers to ‘God’ and that carries a little weight (I suppose). Mary has a good angle on it which I never heard before. Beckett was Irish (‘go way! … no he was!) and was familiar with the Irish language.
In Irish, ‘Go Deo’ (pronounced ‘guh joe’) means ‘forever’. This, she reckons, is where ‘Godot’ came from… ‘Waiting for Forever’ and that’s where my title for this post came from too.