Review: Waiting for Godot, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Featuring two very acclaimed actors in the lead roles, Waiting for Godot has been somewhat of a surprise success in the West End this year, extending its run right through the summer. This is clearly partly down to the calibre of the leads, Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are two major dramatic heavyweights, but it has also been a bit of a triumph for a straight drama production in these troubled economic times.

Apparently voted the most significant English language play of the twentieth century, Waiting for Godot is a play about two men, Vladimir and Estragon who are, unsurprisingly, waiting for someone called for Godot. We never get to meet Godot, or find out who he is, and so the titular ‘waiting’ forms the backbone of the play as we watch these two men pass the time in a multitude of ways, whilst debating the meaning of life and existence. Twice, they are visited by a man called Pozzo and his slave Lucky.

Out of the two leads, Ian McKellen gave the stronger performance for me as Estragon: he inhabited his role with greater ease and seemed more at home with the physical comedy side of things. Patrick Stewart was good too as Vladimir, but seemed to hold himself a little stiffly at times and lacked some of McKellen’s easily shambolic nature.
Simon Callow seems to be having a ball of a time as an almost pantomime like Pozzo, and Ronald Pickup as his slave does an amazing job with an incredibly complex stream-of-consciousness soliloquy.

In the end, I think I just want a bit more from a play. I was a little bemused to find numerous different potential interpretations on the Wikipedia page for the play, and I think this kind of summarises the problem that I had with it. The material is just so open to any manner of interpretation that unless one goes with some preconceived idea of what it is about, the play will just leaves you scratching your head, and wondering what it was all about. I have a similar problem with much of modern art, I know what I like, and quite frankly this just isn’t it!

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