A ruinous post-apocalyptic scene, snow on the ground and the remains of an old theatre where one leafless tree thrusts through the broken boards – such is the setting for this (appropriately) long-awaited production of Samuel Beckett’s play.
Sold out signs splashed the poster outside the theatre and the auditorium was packed – even the standing space was crowded as Bath welcomed Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.
Famously described as the play in which nothing happens – twice, Waiting for Godot concerns the fortunes of two old ne’er-do-wells, Estragon (McKellen) and Vladimir (Stewart) as they wait by the tree for the mysterious Godot. Even the characters themselves seem unsure who Godot is, and why it is so important they wait for him. Nonetheless, wait they do.
Their waiting is enlivened by the arrival of whip-brandishing Pozzo (Simon Callow) and his much abused slave Lucky (Ronald Pickup).
Many people have tried to analyse the play, offering interpretations based on politics or religion.
Certainly the dialogue is riddled with religious themes but there are many other topics picked up and examined by the two waiting – such as time, memory, ageing and the 50-year relationship between the men, who seem at times like a long-married couple.
McKellen and Stewart clearly have a ball playing the central parts. Both are such gifted and experienced performers, and work together with obvious pleasure.
They create the fretful, affectionate relationship between the two central characters with enormous humour, warmth and depth.
Callow was suitably bombastic as the exploitative Pozzo, and Pickup earned a round of applause for his tackling of Lucky’s singular, incomprehensible monologue.
The play belonged to its main stars, however. They owned the stage.
The comedy and slapstick, their accomplished physical performance and the creation of moments of pathos and anguish all weave together to create the funny, intriguing, dark and mystifying atmosphere of Beckett’s play.