(Feingold, Nightingale, and the London Times review from 1955 on Waiting for Godot.)
Godot's Worth the Weight, The Philanthropist Donates Little, 9 to 5 Shows More Heart Than Art
Tuesday, May 12th 2009 at 3:18pm
The Norman Conquests as three, eight Broadway shows opened just before the Tony nominations' cutoff date. This manic pileup carried a surprisingly un-Broadwayish weightiness. After Ayckbourn's rotating-repertory trio came Desire Under the Elms and Waiting for Godot, two somber modernist works that Broadway never wholly learned to love, and two relatively obscure light-comic antiques, 1934's Accent on Youth and 1971's The Philanthropist, refitted for popular male stars of today. Of the eight openings, the only one resembling 2009 Broadway business as usual was 9 to 5, yet another musical version of a not-quite-forgotten film.
Of the lot, Waiting for Godot (Roundabout Studio 54) undoubtedly qualifies as the most notable event, both as the best piece of writing on the list and by dint of Anthony Page's relatively solid, sane production. Godot has not been an uncommon sight in New York since its Broadway premiere in 1956. There have been at least half a dozen Off-Broadway productions, including two editions of Beckett's own staging and the post-Katrina version with which the Classical Theatre of Harlem created a stir a few years ago. Studied everywhere and a known quantity to most theater artists, the play is remote only from Broadway's recent experience.
Waiting for Godot
By Samuel Beckett
Roundabout Studio 54
254 West 54th Street, 212-719-1300
From The Times
May 7, 2009
Waiting for Godot, Theatre Royal Haymarket
In its 55-year history Waiting for Godot has attracted some striking and even startling actors. The American premiere of Beckett’s play was a disaster, thanks to the producers’ decision to advertise it as “the laugh sensation of two continents”, give a leading role to Bert Lahr, aka the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and present the result to bewildered audiences in Miami. Myself, I’ve seen other comedians prove a lot more successful as the tramps Vladimir and Estragon: Robin Williams and Steve Martin in New York, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson here. But last night the appeal to popular taste moved from the comics to the comic books.
For fans of the movies based on those books, Sean Mathias’s revival will doubtless go down as the X-Men Godot, with Professor Xavier onstage with his foe, leader of the Brotherhood of the Mutants, evil Magneto. And why not, if it introduces new audiences to the play that a National Theatre poll rated as the greatest of the 20th century?
But Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen happen also to be superb classic actors — and they proved it with performances that were at once subtle and commanding, touching and funny, vulnerable and dignified and just about everything we could expect Vladimir and Estragon to be . . .
Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket, London SW1, on April 30, www.waitingforgodottheplay.com, 0845 4811870
First London Review of Waiting for Godot in the Times, 1955:
The dramatic instinct reveals itself in a flow of unexpected, absorbing happen- ings upon the stage. But a play is something more-it is the flow gradually emerging as some significant image of life. Mr. Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, now to be seen at the Arts Theatre in a brilliant production by Mr. Peter Hall, insists that these truisms shall be restated. That Mr. Beckett-an Irishman who lives in Paris and-writes for preference in French -possesses the dramatic instinct in a most original sense one cannot doubt. His work in two acts holds the stage most wittily, but is it a play ? Its significance-and how, one feels, Mr. Beckett must abjure the word-would seem to be that nothing finally is significant. Two tramps stand near a tree on a derelict country road waiting for Godot. One, played by Mr. Paul Daneman, manifests a sense of responsibility, a sense of the desperate necessity of their waiting, that gives him a certain threadbare dignity; the other (Mr. Peter Woodthorpe) is a whimper- ing grotesque all for deserting or suicide by hanging. The dialogue between them is a meandering essay in the inconsequential: if Kafka had tried to write a music hall sketch for two clowns it might perhaps have struck a similar note. The identity of Godot, the source of his power, are of course never made explicit though there are some carefully placed remarks about a savior. While the tramps' buffoonery and cross- questioning continues what we do feel pal- pably is a sense of the passing of time that has been lived. This is interrupted by the outrageous appearance of a portly, prosper- pus-looking farming gentleman, who is lead- tng on a rope an ancient servant (Mr. Timothy Bateson) foaming at the mouth, tethered by his neck, and bent low by the burden of his master's suitcase, hamper, and stool. The master, played by Mr. Peter Bull, is not Godot-he is Pozzo. He represents a bullying authority that occasionally breaks down into floods of childish tears; but it is an authority none the less and as such it gives the tramps a flicker of hope. They temporarily forget Godot. At this point Mr. Beckett would seem to be hinting at some profound interpretation of the relation between master and servant, but, no doubt deliberately, this is in the event never clarified. A futile message from Godot, brought in a rather moving little scene by a boy, rounds off the act. On the next evening everything is repeated with a difference. Pozzo has gone blind and hence is led by his servant who is dumb. The tramps' memories begin to fail. The small boy reappears, but not Godot. The tree has sprouted leaves. The thoroughbred Irish intelligence of much of Mr. Beckett's dialogue and his power of theatrical invention force one to take his fantasy seriously, but it remains a fantasy. His patiently elemental per- sonages are figments in whom we cannot ultimately believe since they lack universality. They are, though, remarkably well played in this production. Mr. Daneman and Mr. Woodthorpe invest the tramps with grandeur. Mr. Bull gives a rich portrait of a weeping blusterer, and Mr. Bateson as a pathetic mute has one terrifying monologue.