Like so many others with an interest in the theatre, I’m no stranger to Waiting for Godot. The now legendary play, which took the world by storm in the 1950s, deals with the hollowness of a life spent waiting for meaning and redemption. I’ve read Godot both for pleasure and for study, in high school and in university. I’ve seen amateur productions and professional ones; interpretations that adhered strictly to the original text and others that veered sharply towards the avant-garde. But none has compared to what I saw tonight.
The Stratford Festival’s production of Waiting for Godot is staged in the Festival’s lesser-known Tom Patterson theatre, a relatively small space adjacent to a community centre. The theatre’s most interesting feature is not its size but its structure: the seats are located in shallow rows along three sides of the stage, putting audience members closer to the action and giving each of them a different angle from which to view the play. This was perfectly suited to Jennifer Tarver’s direction of Godot. She made brilliant use of the show’s slapstick comedy and the stage’s layout to maximize the visual, physical element of the play and, with it, she truly brought out the piece’s humour. The audience often laughed out loud at the jokes and gags, although they were soon abruptly hushed by the show’s darker elements, which were captured with intensity by all members of the cast. This balance ideally represents why Samuel Beckett chose to label his masterpiece a “tragicomedy”.
It is impossible to summarize Waiting for Godot in terms of plot – all two hours and thirty minutes consist of men waiting, alone except for the occasional interaction with a passing traveller, for a mysterious man named Godot. Vladimir and Estragon are certain that Godot will arive soon, and with him, redemption from their meaningless, painful lives. But by the evening’s end, Godot is nowhere to be seen, and Vladimir and Estragon must prepare for another day of waiting.
Some plays deal with personal, emotional issues that their playwrights have experienced but other people have not. Some playwrights try to tackle broader societal problems, but in doing so become products of their generation and nothing but relics for the future. Waiting for Godot, which is personal and cultural, and also philosophical and psychological, is extraordinary because the themes it addresses are universal; international and timeless. There will never be a generation of people who don’t ask the questions that Beckett asks, and I hope, never a generation that isn’t stunned by the horror and humour of Beckett’s attempts to answer them.
Waiting for Godot
by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Jennifer Tarver
Tom Patterson Theatre
to September 26
Approximate running time: 2 hrs 40 min, including one interval