Last Sunday, I spent the day with my 4-year-old who asks constant inane questions and my father-in-law who, living alone, likes to tell us everything such as how many cups of tea he drinks in a day. Waiting for Godot at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre is a bit like this.
Other analogies could include many an existential conversation at university when I used to try and impress people with my philosophical knowledge. Great acting aside, I would sum up the play of Waiting for Godot as a mixture of aphorisms, riddles and slapstick in the manner of Laurel and Hardy and Morecambe and Wise. Many people like this sort of thing.
Admittedly, I’ve never seen or read Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or even seen Tweedy (Alan Digweed) the clown but I did my research into the plot and background. How the play is about two drifters who are waiting for Mr Godot by a dead tree but he never turns up. How it’s supposed to keep audiences watching yet nothing happens. How it invites all kinds of interpretation and is considered ground-breaking absurdist and minimalist art.
But Beckett himself supposedly said there is a danger of making more of all the references than what they are. It reminds me of that Ted Hughes poem Hawk Roosting: when asked about all of its dictator symbolism, he replied that its just about a hawk. Waiting for Godot is the sort of play that people who want to appear cultured say they enjoy.
I’m sure Beckett fans could try to enlighten me but I just wasn’t gripped. Perhaps I prefer my theatre to be more traditional with clear narrative hooks. I just wasn’t moved to thinking deeply at all by quotes such as, ‘In this vast confusion one thing alone is clear, we are waiting for Godot to come.’ The only thing I laughed at was the comment, ‘We are bored to death, no doubt about it.’
There’s no doubt that this is a very well-directed performance by resident creative director, Paul Milton. It is also very well acted with Tweedy as Estragon alongside Jeremy Stockwell as Vladimir and familiar faces to Everyman audiences, Mark Roper and Murry Andrews. There has been much hype about Tweedy playing a ‘straight’ role away from pantomime but I would argue that he is just as much of a clown in this, spending a lot of the play sticking his tongue out.
Director Paul Milton said: ‘Godot is our best-known example of a play belonging to the Theatre of the Absurd. Absurdism explores the meaning – if there is one – of life and existence. Absurdism can also mean ‘bizarre and ridiculous behaviour’ hence the casting of Tweedy in the leading role of Estragon. We are going to be using Tweedy’s physicality and off-the-wall sense of humour to bring out the absurd elements of Waiting for Godot. Playing opposite him will be Jeremy Stockwell, who comes from a vaudeville family – so between them, we are developing a kind of Laurel and Hardy relationship.’
I agree with all of that and reading the reviews so far, audience reactions are all very positive. But I personally would probably agree more with the man sitting next to me, who at the end of the performance called it ‘pretentious twaddle.’
I was invited along to review Waiting for Godot