I have a shameful confession to make: before this production, I’d never seen Waiting for Godot. I mean, I’d read Samuel Beckett’s play, and read about it; but this was my first time watching more than a few recorded scenes in drama and English lessons at school, or in those countless TV series about famous works.
So what was odd about Gare St Lazare Ireland and Dublin Theatre Festival’s staging of the play – which has been touring since 2013 – was how familiar it felt. Beckett’s tale of Estragon (Gary Lydon) and Vladimir (Conor Lovett) endlessly waiting for Godot has infiltrated the theatrical aether. It’s been discussed and debated to death and become a programming staple.
The newness of Beckett’s playful dance with our need for meaning, with the conventions of theatre, is no longer there. Stripped back to the barest details, the allusions to religion (including Godot’s name) and the absurdist scenes involving Lucky and Pozzo, are expected. Other writers have followed in Beckett’s wake. The play’s reputation is mixed up with GCSE familiarity.
There’s a strangely pre-recorded feel to Judy Hegarty Lovett’s production, because of this. Everything’s all done very nicely, but there’s nothing to unsettle the words, to make us see and hear Beckett anew. Whimsy permeates Ferdia Murphy’s circular set, with its massive lunar backdrop and solitary tree branch. It’s of a piece with Lydon and Lovett’s loveable Irish tinkers.
As Estragon and Vladimir, Lydon and Lovett make for an engaging double-act. And, as the enslaved Lucky, Marcus Lamb brings good scuttle and a buffoonish dignity to his mindless recitation of arguments of logic. Meanwhile, Dominic Moore puffs up well as his self-important master, Lucky. But, again, these are types we’ve seen before. Watching them is like slipping into comfy clothes.
As Beckett tests our ability to deal with nothingness, this production follows a route of gentle absurdity. It’s amusing, but in a softened way, rolling onwards with smooth, broad appeal. Here, the humour is a chuckle and the darkness beyond the oval of the set is just an absence of light. There’s little to bring us up short, few sharp edges in scenes where words could cut.