NOT a seat to be had in the house and all for a play about two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, who wait – and possibly have been waiting for all eternity – for someone who is never going to turn up
You do wonder about that first night audience, back in 1953, unsuspecting and with no sense at all that a landmark drama and a great conundrum was unfolding before them.
For this is a play, typical of Samuel Beckett, with many more questions than answers. Yet during the course of its two acts you will laugh, have the smile freeze on your face, and then laugh again.
Here Beckett’s box of tricks, which has spawned countless learned theses and which he once claimed not to understand himself, is thrown to four of the best actors in the land.
Ian McKellen is Estragon, footsore, world weary and lugubrious, who makes his entrance clambering over the back wall of a set built to look like the void of a demolished house; Patrick Stewart is Vladimir, always able to raise his friend’s spirits with a song or a dance despite a weak bladder and repeated reminders that here they must remain, waiting for the mysterious Godot.
They pass the time, although, as Estragon notes wearily, it will pass very well without them. Their shared privations have forged a bond between them as strong as in any marriage. Hence there are moments of great tenderness in a landscape which offers few comforts.
An encounter with the absurdly pompous Pozzo, played with fruity gusto by Simon Callow, helps to pass the time – especially since he is preceded onto the stage by his “minion”, Lucky, whom he guides by a rope around the neck. Lucky’s verbal contribution to the drama is a protracted pseudo-intellectual rant which Ronald Pickup delivers as an ovation-winning tour de force.
You might imagine Beckett wrote in a trance. He raised questions to which no-one has the answers. Yet in director Sean Mathias’s production you see why this sad, funny and cruel play continues to intrigue.
A word, finally, for 11-year-old Alex Crozier, of Newcastle, who played Boy last night with great confidence. He shares the role with Hexham’s Elliot Mann. What an experience for both!