Theatre review: Waiting for Godot at Smock Alley, Dublin
Waiting for Godot
Written by Samuel Beckett
Director: Patrick Sutton
Cast: Donal Courtney, Charlie Huges, Gerald Byrne, Rex Ryan, Daniel Shields
Smock Alley Theatre 1662, Dublin - 3rd August 2019
The very concept, idea, the image of two tramps in battered bowler hats in a barren landscape waiting endlessly for Godot to arrive without knowing precisely why is one of the most potent theatrical images in all theatre, to such an extent however that it has also become a bit of a running joke. Even the idea of going to see Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot always produces a wry smile at the idea and usually the reality that you're going to be waiting a long time for something that has little sense and no resolution.. There's a conscious futility in going to see Waiting for Godot and yet we keep on doing it.
Which is evidently the point. I'm sure there could be and may well have been some radical interpretations of Waiting for Godot, there is probably some director who might be deluded enough to think that they can bring anything more out of Godot than is already abundantly catered for in its simple, minimal and elusive allegorical nature, but what it the point? And yet, we still go expecting that a new production will reveal something new, illuminate something that we haven't considered before that is applicable to today. Waiting for Godot is beyond that. It addresses the fundamental nature of existence, and it's not too optimistic about the outlook.
Or is it? And is it even worth analysing and interpreting? What more is there to say about Waiting for Godot than a recognition that it was born out of a kind of post-war existential crisis, that it takes a whole new view of what theatre is and, despite being unconventional and having little that you could call plot and certainly nothing that you could call dramatic progression, that it still has the power to entertain and make you consider the fundamental nature of existence, or survival if you like. Why do we go on? Do we need a purpose and is it ultimately all not pointless? Surely there's no need to look any deeper into the play than that? Or indeed that it is nothing but a play that plays with the idea of being a play?
Even that opens up possibilities on the question of futility. Why don't Estragon and Vladimir just hang themselves from a tree? Well obviously because they don't have a rope and Estragon's belt isn't strong enough, so they'll bring one tomorrow. Which is of course another reason for coming back, for going on, for getting through another day, and who knows? maybe Godot will turn up next time. And if not Godot well then you they might run across Lucky and Pozzo and whatever they represent. Whether that's a critique of class and capitalism, whether it's about freewill and enslavement, or whether it's just a theatrical device to get from one scene to the next. A way to pass the time until something else happens. Even if the appearance of Godot isn't ever likely to be a plot twist here.
All those considerations about what the characters really expect, where they have come from, whether it has any allegorical application, are all things you can leave to the director and performers as a way of getting under the skin of the characters and the play. None of that needs to show for the audience, and Patrick Sutton's production for the ...no alternative... company at the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin ensures that there's clearly plenty going on beneath the surface - in Vladimir's mind at least seeking a rationale, while Estragon is content to live from moment to moment - but it shouldn't show to an audience. Whatever it has to communicate to an audience, as even the audience have a place in the meta-theatrical nature of Godot as necessary observers, like Didi and Gogo, waiting for something. Not Godot certainly, but you can count on Lucky and Pozzo making an appearance.
Like Estragon however they certainly don't want anything untoward disturbing their limited expectations. Otherwise it wouldn't be Waiting for Godot. What you expect is to see is two characters who play off each other, who might not like each other but need each other, even if it's just to not feel alone in the world. Which is realistic to a lot of things about life and there's nothing untoward in Beckett's view of it except for the absurdity of it all. Ain't that the truth. The production and the performances capture that mass of contradictions that is Waiting for Godot, that don't even have to be considered strictly opposites; optimism and futility, lassitude and enthusiasm.
Director Patrick Sutton focusses on those contrasts as a way of approaching the wonderful magic that makes Waiting for Godot come alive on the stage and entertain far more than it's reputation for miserabilism suggests (other Beckett plays are available for that purpose). Donal Courtney as Gogo and Charlie Huges as Didi take full advantage of the nature of their characters, the peculiarity of their outlooks, but evidently most importantly in how they establish a rhythm that bounces off one another. The historical Smock Alley theatre lends its own character and intimacy of the space to the production, and the space is well used, again to establish rhythm, symmetry and contrasts. You get a dead tree, a rock and a pair of boots and the moon and you've got Waiting for Godot. Anything else - and indeed any further commentary - is superfluous and probably pointless.