Hugo Weaving, Luke Mullins, Richard Roxburgh and Philip Quast in Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting For Godot. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
Waiting for Godot
Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, November 16.
Until December 21
There is no God in Godot, of course. Beckett denied it repeatedly (“If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot”). Some suggest the waiting is more likely inspired by no higher power than the French cyclist Roger Godeau.
Everything conspires to make Vladimir and Estragon’s existential plight feel touchingly real.
But there is something in this production’s version of Beckett’s iconic tree that invites us to turn our eyes upwards. It looks more like a petrified bolt of lightning, a dead connection between the heavens and a blasted earth.
Hugo Weaving as Vladimir and Richard Roxburgh as Estragon. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
Designed by Zsolt Khell, this is a starker vision of the play than the sumptuously distressed and conspicuously sentimental West End production starring Ian McKellen and Roger Rees that played the Opera House in 2010. They pitched Beckett’s pair of tramps as a decrepit vaudeville duo. In this staging, Hugo Weaving (Vladimir) and Richard Roxburgh (Estragon) arrive with much less in the way of defining (and, ultimately, limiting) baggage.
There are likenesses, too, however. Khell’s design, dominated by a massive, angled proscenium, transmits a similar sense that the action is taking place in the ruins of a theatre, though here, the building has been razed to the ground.
There’s a distinct staginess in Weaving’s crisply enunciated Vladimir, also. He certainly sounds like a man who has trodden the boards at some point in his life. So how did it come to this? Weaving’s deployment of a too-lascivious tongue, which makes him appear deviant, invites speculation. By contrast, Roxburgh cuts a simpler, more down-to-earth figure, rendered clownish with the upturned brim of his hat. Together, they seem like two men left holding hands in the wake of a long-ago disaster, awaiting rescue that will never come.
Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving in Waiting For Godot. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
Our hunger for an arrival is brilliantly sated with the appearance of a lordly Pozzo (Philip Quast, superb in the role) and the cadaverous Lucky (Luke Mullins), whose shoulder length white hair lends this traumatised figure a spectral look. His thrilling delivery of Lucky’s nonsensical monologue is the capstone to an outstanding year on stage.
What Hungarian director Tamas Ascher would have brought to the production we will never know, but Andrew Upton, who stepped up to the plate after Ascher was ordered to stay home by his doctor, leaves us with no sense that we are missing out. Strongly informed by the world Khell creates for it and by Ascher’s longtime creative partner Anna Lengyel (credited as associate director here), Upton’s staging has an Ascher-esque sense of playfulness and lightness.
Everything conspires to make Vladimir and Estragon’s existential plight feel touchingly real. Despite the coldness of the setting, the production radiates human warmth and leaves us struck, in the end, not by a sense of hopelessness, but by the human capacity to endure it.