Dublin Theatre Festival: Waiting for Godot

Conor Lovett in 'Waiting for Godot' by Samuel Beckett by Gare St Lazare Players as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Conor Lovett in 'Waiting for Godot' by Samuel Beckett by Gare St Lazare Players as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

There is a satisfying congruence that occurs with Gare St. Lazare’s production of Waiting for Godot being staged at the Gaiety Theatre. The play’s constant textual and performative quotations of the circus, music hall, pantomime and clowning find a useful resonance with a performance space that has, at one point or another, housed all of those popular forms of entertainment. These are forms that can help punters tune out, turn off, and distract us from the drudgery and, for some, the suffering incurred simply by having to live through Time. What the play seems to suggest then is that perhaps such forms are not so much indulgences as much as they are active strategies for coping with living in a nonsensical universe that none of us made, but that all of us have to negotiate, day in and day out. 

Gare St. Lazare’s production, under the direction of Judy Hegarty Lovett, makes a point to reference these genealogies of popular entertainment, together with the intertextual detritus of Christian theology, that structure Beckett’s script. Didi (Conor Lovett) and Gogo (Gary Lydon), two tramps on a country road waiting for the mysterious Godot to arrive, pass the time in sharp exchanges and verbal slapstick. In doing so they call to mind any vaudevillian comedy duo or music hall double act. Despite the profundities one of the most important plays of the twentieth century is typically known for, it owes as much to Laurel and Hardy as it does to Augustine or Aquinas. Lovett and Lydon do well in capturing Didi and Gogo’s easy patter, serving up lyrical, existential observations (‘Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now?’) with throwaway gag lines (‘On the other hand it might be better to strike the iron before it freezes.’). Both the actors and director Hegarty Lovett actively deny an overwrought treatment of Beckett’s philosophical probing by infusing their performances with an almost casual naturalism, especially during the first act. 

This light approach isn’t entirely successful, though. Indeed, it does take nearly the entirety of the first act for the rhythm and tempo of Beckett’s self-conscious tete-a-tete dialogue to be confidently grasped by both Lydon and Lovett. There is a palpable sense of tentativeness as the performers (and the production) attempt shifting uneasily to and from musical hall pastiche, naturalist comedy, and existential treatise. The pace of the first half is further slackened by the appearance of the imperious Pozzo (Gavan O’Herlihy) and his lowly manservant Lucky (Tadhg Murphy). O’Herlihy’s Pozzo towers formidably over both Lydon and Lovett, but fails to exude a convincing command of the stage. Tadhg Murphy’s Lucky is, by contrast, remarkably crafted and the precision of Murphy’s performance as Lucky highlights the lack of physical specificity and sharpness missing in the first act. His handling of Lucky’s unusual parlor trick, an exhausting stream of consciousness monologue, stands out as the high point of the first act. Both Lydon and Lovett hit their stride in the second act, though, and are able to channel their giddy repartee into a strategy to keep at bay the building anxiety that their waiting will once again come to naught. 

Ferdia Murphy’s design subtly stretches the strictures of Beckett’s text, with the tree that stands as the only prominent piece of landscape extending over the heads of Didi and Gogo, rather than standing rooted in the stage floor as it traditionally has. This sense of rootlessness is extended to the playing space. The stage floor is an exact replica of the huge moon that floats behind the players, evoking an eerie weightlessness to the figures on stage as they seem caught in a void between these two massive bodies. Sinéad McKenna’s lighting design offers soft shades of cross-lighting in transitions, creating subtle shifts of states as the pointlessness of Didi and Gogo’s vigil becomes painfully clear. 

Director Hegarty Lovett and her cast have done well in tackling a play that carries with it both the weight of cultural significance and the residues of countless productions that have gone before. Emphasising the verbal and physical pratfalls that Beckett’s text delights in, the production strives, for the most part, to use throwaway lines and wicked humour to plumb the meaningless void. More directorial precision in the performances could have aided this emphasis, though, and turned what is a good production of Godot into something truly profound. ‘That passed the time,’ says Didi of Pozzo’s first appearance. ‘It would have passed in any case,’ replies Gogo. Beckett’s wry remark on the ways we keep nothingness at bay cleverly links audience and performer in this production as we all try to make Time pass painlessly, in the vain hope this universe will all make sense eventually.

Star rating: ★★★


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  • Theatre

Dublin Theatre Festival: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

3-6 October 2013

Produced by Gare St Lazare Players Ireland
In The Gaiety Theatre

Directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett
Set and Costume Designer: Ferdia Murphy
Lighting Designer: Sinéad McKenna

Producer: Sorcha O'Reilly
Associate Producer: Maura O'Keeffe
Conor Lovett
Gary Lydon
Adam Malone
Tadhg Murphy
Gavan O'Herlihy