Waiting For Godot: There’s a simple principle when making cocktails: that the resulting cocktail must be better than the ingredients. If you have a fine, aged, bottle of whiskey, for example, then if you can’t make it better then just take your whiskey neat.
By Boyd and Brodie Productions (@boydandbrodieproductions)
With Callum Brodie, George Maunsell, and Acushla-Tara Kupe
Directed by Michael Hurst
At the Q Theatre Loft until 6 April
A similar rule applies with “remakes” of deservedly famous productions. Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece Waiting for Godot is an unlikely candidate to inspire the next series of Marvel remakes — described variously as “a nihilistic farce” or a profound display of mordant Irish wit, it’s no superhero outing — but it is the inspiration for this “punk-noir” production, at Q Theatre’s Loft, of Waiting for Waiting for Godot. Got that? We are WAITING for Waiting for Godot, along with the three actors on stage before us.
The three-handed International hit (called “delectable” by the New York Times in its first outing there) is directed by Michael Hurst, and features a cast of the hard-working Callum Brodie and bird-like George Maunsell as the two sparring protagonists (both being co-founders of the production team), and Acushla-Tara Kupe as the only sane character, an impatient factotum who holds some part of their fate in her hands. I remember Kupe from her great turn as the titular character at the Popup Globe in ye Olivier-award winning show Emilia! Aside for one scene here, however, she is not called upon to draw too deep.
Award-winning American playwright Dave Hanson has previously provided Hurst with the enigmatic The Exit Interview, in which Hurst had the main role. In this play, they take on a big challenge – making a new cocktail out of Beckett’s masterful brew. Similar feats have been performed before, most notably Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead riffing off the Bard’s Hamlet, adding the notable motif of a coin toss to illustrate their volitional restraints.
No such motif is provided here. Nor any such restraint on free will. Instead we have two characters explicitly paralleling Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, but this time they are understudies for the play, which goes on offstage, and if they’re waiting for anything it’s for the director (he or she) to call them up — she (or he) is never seen, nor is their final fate known. But is life as precarious as a the career of an understudy? That’s the conceit the production must pull off. On the face of it, an easier job than Beckett gave himself. For this is more an interpretation of art, than life. But through its art it talks about life.
One can’t help seeking parallels between the plays, but one shouldn’t seek too many. Beckett’s was a “tragicomedy in two acts” and, famously, about nothing. (Or nothing more than “symbiosis,” as Beckett himself is supposed to have said.) But this in one act. And, unlike the original, these two characters do have a purpose —to act! — and the one on whose pleasure they await — the director — is a real (but unseen) person of uncertain gender (we’re up to the minute here!). In Beckett’s play, we too wait for Godot with Vladimir and Estragon — as we too wonder for what purpose, and to what end. But Hanson’s play gives the characters purpose, and a passion that directs that end — their passion to act. Even if thwarted by that nameless other. But something is lost, I feel, in departing so much from the surrealism of the original. There is something of Rickey Gervais’s Extras to the show, a more quotidian perspective, the humour less metaphysical.
There are layers. Kupe’s character challenges the understudies as actors, and proves them ‘wrong’ — anyone can act, she argues, and ‘proves’ it, by showing them up. But we never see the characters themselves ‘act,’ except to warm up. They resolutely refuse to utter the full first line of Beckett’s play; we can judge the character’s ability only by their reaction to Kupe’s impressively staged performance.
As actors themselves, however, these three are all first-rate, engaging the audience throughout. They do acknowledge they are in a play-about-another-play — “there is no art these days,” says one, “just sophomoric reinterpretations of the classics.” And it is in part a biting description of the decay of creative culture, movingly outlined in the late Scott Timberg’s Culture Crash, which argues that when artists and artisans can’t make a living, we all pay the price. And it asks questions like: Why do artists art? Or creators create? And how many have a helpful Aunt Mary. But it’s still layers less deep than Beckett’s, which focuses on questioning life itself.
But for all that, there is a magic created on the Loft stage. And something does happen. Spoiler alert.
Review by Theatre Peter