“Nobody comes, nobody goes - it’s awful.” “I begin to weary of this motif …” You can’t say that Waiting for Godot is a play that’s unaware of the kinds of criticism that might be (and indeed consistently have been) levelled at it; Beckett, in fact, seems to delight in having his protagonists voice those potential criticisms themselves throughout the play. These days, arguably, Godot is a work that’s in danger of seeming less radical than quaint, but, for me, it’s a play that still retains all of its fascination and frustration. Partially re-cast, Sean Mathias’s production has recently re-opened at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, with Ian McKellen and Ronald Pickup still on board as Estragon and Lucky, but Roger Rees replacing Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Matthew Kelly taking over from Simon Callow as Pozzo.
Mathias has been accused of making the play too cosy, but I found the precarious balance of pain and comedy in this production to be exactly right. The quartet work beautifully together: McKellen's haunting befuddlement, Rees’s progression from confidence to despair, Kelly’s scary command and Pickup’s tour-de-force on Lucky’s "soliloquy" - it’s hard to see how any of these performances could be bettered. What Mathias and his actors have achieved here is a deeply humane production of a play that can lie coldly on the page, and I found the final half hour in particular to be powerfully affecting. This funny, painful and poignant production does more than “pass the time”; it's a Godot worth waiting for.