As the audience files in, we are confronted by a lone figure on stage. Dishevelled, downcast and wearing the trademark shabby bowler hat, Estragon (Aaron Monaghan) sits on a large stone in a sparse wasteland set, the precise time and place of which is impossible to determine. His expression is haunted and despairing as he clutches his knees, remaining perfectly still for what feels like an uncomfortably long period of time. The vicarious unease and tentative anticipation felt by the audience foreshadows the central premise of the play, namely, the act of waiting: awkward, but active waiting for an unspecified occurrence.
Next enters Vladimir (Marty Rea), Estragon’s more verbose and energetic counterpart, and the rapport between the two protagonists is established. Their dependence on each other, familiarity, bickering, humour, cyclical conversations and underlying affection makes their relationship reminiscent of an old married couple. True to Beckett‘s vision and the conventions of the Theatre of the Absurd, their exchanges are characterised by a Laurel and Hardy-style dynamic and vaudeville-inspired, slapstick delivery. Both actors are staggeringly accomplished in these roles. They adhere to demanding choreography with absolute precision, apparent ease and emotional conviction. Throughout, their performances are utterly compelling.
Their amusingly nonsensical deliberations as they wait for an elusive figure named Godot are eventually disturbed by the arrival of Pozzo (Rory Nolan), a domineering aristocrat, and his submissive, largely mute slave, Lucky (Garrett Lombard). Nolan’s physical presence on stage feels impossibly enormous, and his combination of bullish arrogance and effete fussiness indicate grotesque privilege. Through his treatment of Lucky, his role as exploitative oppressor is explicit. Lucky remains silent until instructed by his master to speak, at which point he delivers an increasingly incoherent and frenzied rant, presented with such unprecedented energy that the audience erupts in spontaneous, rapturous applause. Pozzo and Lucky eventually depart, but will make an unsettling reappearance in Act II, their personalities and relationship having been altered by mysterious and sudden physical afflictions. Their departures in both acts leave Vladimir and Estragon to resume their futile wait, in a shared state of impotent frustration, though their continued paralysis is seemingly voluntary.
The play’s famously indecisive and apparently uneventful conclusion is imbued with palpable emotional power by the stunning performances of the two main actors. Rea, in particular, expresses existential emotional limbo – painfully effectively as he delivers the line “I can’t go on…. what have I said?” somehow crying, agonising, laughing and dismissing his own thoughts within a mere few seconds.
The stagecraft showcased in this production is similarly exceptional. The muted, earthy hues of the stark set convey emptiness and atrophy while somehow also being aesthetically satisfying. The lighting is skilfully manipulated to convey the passage of time with almost magical subtlety. The blocking creates several beautiful tableaux.
Waiting for Godot is a play that is notoriously challenging to innovate or adapt, due to the very specific directorial stipulations of Beckett himself. Druid‘s production demonstrates that Beckett’s specificity was justified – the play’s power is derived from its purity and simplicity. By staying true to Beckett’s vision and delivering so perfectly, director Garry Hynes demonstrates to us with striking clarity the continued relevance, timelessness and importance of Waiting for Godot.