SPOILER ALERT: JAKE ARNOT reveals what never happens in Waiting For Godot. But what does happen is totally unmissable.
ADC Theatre, 22nd-26th May, 7.45pm, £6-10
Directed by Charlie Parham
If you’ve ever been a victim of a modern absurdist play – A-level students screaming in the dark corners of your soul – then it’s probably Samuel Beckett’s fault. Waiting for Godot may well be the most important play of the last century, but 60 years of wankers missing the point makes it one hell of a challenge to find the play’s heart. Thankfully, Charlie Parham’s witty, perceptive interpretation, delivered by an exuberant and formidably talented cast, sweeps self-indulgence aside and capitalises on Beckett’s humour as much as his elusive depth.
For the NatScis and plebeians among you, the play centres on two tramps, Vladamir (Jack Hudson) and Estragon (Theo Hughes-Moran). As you might have guessed, they’re waiting for Godot, a mysterious figure they hope will save them, and you probably don’t have to read Varsity‘s review to work out that he never turns up.
A general despair at the hopelessness of the human condition permeates the play, but crucially our focal point in Parham’s hands is the relationship between the tramps, and the warmth of Hudson and Hughes-Moran’s fluid performances is the foundation of this production. Their friendship is entirely believable despite its abstraction, and they bring alive the subtle tonal shifts of Beckett’s dialogue with humour and physical sensitivity.
The play shifts up a gear and the comedy takes on a much darker edge with the introduction of a master and his slave. The power held by Pozzo (Edward Eustace) over Lucky (Guy Woolf) becomes a source of horror and fascination for tramps and audience alike, and Eustace’s barely-contained explosive energy trembles constantly under the surface, rendering Pozzo’s presence threatening and unpredictable. It’s a gripping performance.
Lucky is mostly stationary and silent, but the play reaches an apex of hilarity and deep pathos when he is commanded to dance. A fusion of dad-at-the-disco, cabaret girl and mental patient, his dance sums up the production – funny with notes of horror the first time round, horrific with an underlying funniness when repeated. His speech and the implication of Vladamir and Estragon actively helping Pozzo in silencing him is a powerful dramatic climax. And either a completely different person comes out to take his bows at the end, or whoever did Woolf’s make-up is incredible.
At root this production’s success is down to Beckett’s script – all you can do is respond to it. Beckett clearly hated the idea of a cretin like me imposing particular readings onto the play (a furious exchange between the two tramps culminates in the ultimate insult: ‘Critic!’) so I’ll keep my private interpretations to myself, but the reason this is a must-see production is that by focusing on the full dramatic and comic potential of the script, Parham imposes no readings on the audience. You’re free to make it your own, or just enjoy the raw drama.
Professional clowns might have brought a little more unity to the production’s physicality. Professional stage-hands might have used a lot less stage-dust (my lungs are still rattling). But this is as close as a student production gets to being unmissable.