I have a fondness for Samuel Beckett's play Waiting For Godot not just because it was one of my A-Level English set texts but because I remember the moment those weird and monotonous words (in my teenage mind) leapt with emotional gusto off the page when we were taken to see it performed at the National Theatre. It wasn't funny in the classroom, it was funny on stage - and sad and lots of other things and this production made me love the play and that moment of words and performance bringing life and meaning all over again.
Patrick O'Donnell's Estragon (Gogo) and Nick Devlin's Vladimir (Didi) - the two friends who pass the time while waiting for Godot - reminded me a little of a comic duo, a sort of Morcambe and Wise. Devlin's Didi is the straight man, the Ernie Wise and O'Donnell the more silly and mischievous Eric Morcambe.
As they pass the time telling their stories, debating, bickering, and in Gogo's case occasionally falling asleep they present Beckett's play as a kind of existential sit-com. O'Donnell has such an expressive face and a knack for comic timing the chuckles and laughs bubble through the play.
When landowner Pozzo (Paul Kealyn) and his almost entirely mute slave Lucky (Paul Elliot) arrive it affords the opportunity for more physical humour - there is a brilliantly funny sequence involving Lucky's bags. When Lucky 'thinks' it is a masterclass in non-verbal reaction from all three.
But while the performances mix slapstick with more subtle, inflected humour, the comedy doesn't over power the more emotional and intellectual themes of the play indeed it heightens the plight of Didi and Godot, who wait on a promise, on a sliver of hope for something.
The desert-like set with its blue sky back drop, bleached stumpy tree and, later, anaemic leaves gives it the feeling of a desolate wilderness of the two of them being tested like Jesus. Questions of faith and parallels in the stories told, for example Didi talking about Jesus choosing to save a thief and later hearing how Godot chooses not to beat the boy but beat his brother instead - felt stronger than in other productions I've seen. This is part of my fascination with the play, Beckett raises and explores so much there is always something new to consider.
This production is returning to the theatre where the play was first performed in London back in 1955 and it feels like it does it justice. It's two and a half hours long* including an interval and I'm giving it four stars. It's at Arts Theatre until September 23.
* It feels very apt for Waiting For Godot that the website, the ushers and notices in the theatre gave different running times - an none of them were actually quite right.