Left – Hugo Weaving, Philip Quast, Richard Roxburgh and Luke Mullins. Cover – Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh. Photos – Lisa Tomasetti
A dark open mouth of a proscenium arch, hemmed with a moustache of broken, missing or faded light bulbs. A thin, endless branch arcs into the sky. Grey, brick-worked waste land. Two men, like tattered coats upon a sticks, wait.
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is perhaps one of the most intriguing examples of innovative playwriting of its time. Here, across the sea and across time, and culture and all the other identity defining hallmarks of art, Waiting for Godot finds itself at The Sydney Theatre, still waiting.
The premise is simple. Two men, Vladimir (Hugo Weaving) and Estragon (Richard Roxburgh) wait on a country road for Mr Godot. During this time their waiting is interrupted by minor squabbles, the desire to quell hunger, attempts to remember, attempts to reassure, attempts to entertain each other – attempts to test each other’s commitment to each one another, game playing, recitations, singing, a man with a whip known as Pozzo (Philip Quast) and his pale male servant Lucky (Luke Mullins), attempts to remember why and how they came there… an attempt to piece together a plan or a story or a history.
The experience of this play, as opposed to the reading of this play, one of the most meta-theatrical, self-aware acts of popular art. The audience, like Didi and Gogo, wait for something to happen, wait for someone else to decide their fate… and whilst waiting their time (and ours) is filled with actions and words. It is an ache of anticipation experienced by both characters and audience in real time.
And so to watch as these men at the mercy of another, as we are at the mercy of them – sitting as we do in the darkness, watching.
Weaving’s Vladimir is upright, articulate and grand in his broadness. Roxburgh’s Estragon is a small aching poet, finely sketched and crumpled. Mullin’s Lucky is filled with ghostly agony, red raw urgency and a vicious streak. And it is Quast as Pozzo who fills the stage with a mighty and impressive voice – the central sun around which Didi and Gogo orbit. It is in this Waiting for Godot we see the wide reaching universality of oppression, the surrender of control – the desire for control and to be controlled, the need for direction and for the obedience of others – for the complicity in the shape of our own destinies.
Director Andrew Upton has shaped a playful and fluid Waiting for Godot, assisted by Associate director Anna Lengyel. This play "written by an Irishman in France, in a production conceived by a Hungarian by directed by an Australian" has a distinctly universal feel – as absurdist theatre is designed to have. We are the everyman in the everywhere, feeling the weight of the nothingness.
Nick Schlieper's lighting design melts the hard corners and angles of the set – the human shapes amongst the industrial rubble are warm. Subtle thrumming of sound by Max Lyandvert supports, but does not instruct nor obstruct the scene – instead it's like the softest watercolour blue fading into white. All in all a symphony of design at work – costumes (Alice Babidge) slide neatly into the set (Zsolt Khell) and we watch. And wait.
There is pleasure in this waiting. Pleasure found in wildly spoken recitation, in the deep, round vowels of Philip Quast's undeniable velvet voice. Pleasure in the familiar and complementary pairing of our dearly beloved Roxburgh and Weaving. Pleasure in all the moments to be found and paced with such loving care, by a caring directorial eye. Too easily Waiting for Godot can be a steely criticism on aging, on power, on pettiness – and in Upton's production we feel as much as we think.
A rare balance is struck.
The pleasure in the pain of waiting. Of speaking. Of deciding to relinquish all. Beautiful. Horrible. A terrible beauty has been born.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
WAITING FOR GODOT
by Samuel Beckett
Director Andrew Upton
Venue: Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Dates: 12 November – 21 December 2013
Tickets: $55 - $105
Bookings: 02 9250 1777 | sydneytheatre.com.au