Waiting for Godot review: A peculiarly bombastic take

Smock Alley’s production treats the play as a performance vehicle and loses the nuance

Waiting for Godot

Smock Alley, Dublin


"I can't go on like this," says Gogo. "That's what you think," comes Didi's reply. It has been the same exchange, pivoting between defeat and grim determination, since 1953, when Samuel Beckett first sent shockwaves through the theatre and two downtrodden men with an endlessly deferred appointment offered us a paradoxical model of the human struggle: they keep going by staying put.


As they wait, though, the tramps have to pass the time somehow, performing both daily rituals and something more vaudevillian: a patter of conversation, bickering, gleeful torment and affectionate rekindling.

Smock Alley’s production, first staged a year ago and now revived before a Brazilian tour, thus treats the play as a performance vehicle. There’s little else to distract us: Brian Maguire’s set, spare even by Beckettian standards, is reduced to two roll-up canvases featuring the outline of a tree and an abstract horizon. To fill the remaining space, the performances are heavily amplified, beginning with the roaring struggle of Patrick O’Donnell’s Estragon as he fails to remove a boot.

It can't go on like that? That's what you think. Director Patrick Sutton maintains a high pitch of intensity throughout. It makes for a peculiarly bombastic production, where individual performances seem more competitive than collaborative, giving absurdist humour a hard-sell while sacrificing the nuance of the play's dynamic.

On page, for instance, Didi and Gogo resemble two sides to the same person: the hungry, hurt Gogo more identified with the senses; the philosophising, planning Didi more cerebral. O'Donnell, new to the cast, plays Gogo as someone more permanently irascible (he even yells at a carrot), and Charlie Hughes, who combines a Donald O'Connor-style naivety with Stan Laurel's uncomprehending blinks, becomes a softer creation.

By the time Pozzo arrives, given a hunched stoop and fencer's gait by Ronan Dempsey (playing far beyond his years), as though emulating his beleaguered servant Lucky (Simon Stewart), it feels as though characteristics have been assigned less by interpretation than by lottery.

With the restrictions around staging Beckett's work, the smallest decisions within a performance of Godot carry significant effect. Here the most keenly sounded note is one of religious obsession: from Didi's meditation on the fates of two thieves, to Stewart effecting a Paisleyite braying within Lucky's spluttering rhetoric, to various poses of crucifixion: "Do you think God sees me?" asks Gogo, arms spread out in emulation of a tree. Like Godot, he is conspicuous by his absence.

O’Donnell finally relents, in the second act, to suggest a more vulnerable, poetic Gogo, and even in a production with remarkably few frills, the play is most affectingly realised when a haunted Hughes contemplates the tragedy of their lives going unnoticed and unwitnessed. That, as staging after staging proves, has never been Didi and Gogo’s problem. After all this time, they’re not going anywhere.

Until August 29th

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley

Peter Crawley, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about theatre, television and other aspects of culture