Image courtesy of Alan McCredie.
The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and what better way of doing that than by putting on Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, Waiting for Godot. This play is famously described as a play in which nothing happens, twice. The staging is simplistic and the dialogue is dry. Most notably however, time seems to stand still. Despite this, the play is far from boring. Director Mark Thomson has put on a performance that explores the existential questions ‘what is the meaning of life?’ and ‘why do we exist?’ through the cast’s engagement with, and entertaining of, the audience. The curtain goes up and two scruffy men, Vladimir and Estragon, appear on the stage, one trying to pull off his boot, the other peeing in a corner. They are waiting for a man named Godot. This waiting bears no fruit, but it is, as the title implies, the basis of the play and the characters persistently try to fill the time they spend waiting to make it pass more quickly.
The absurdity and meaninglessness of the situation, as they fail to fill the time with anything of substance, is emphasized by the colorless stage and costumes, the bright lights and the absence of background music. The only thing that keeps the play progressing is the dialogue, which is, in contrast, blooming. The brilliant actors cleverly juggle witty conversations and hilarious dance moves. Brian Cox, a founding member of the Lyceum Theatre 50 years ago, adds extra spice to the performance by twisting his facial expressions from fear to joy, wonder to boredom before the audience can react to either. Together with Bill Paterson’s pessimistic grunting every time ‘waiting’ is mentioned, they own the stage. A third character, Pozzo, is an imposing and authoritative man, and John Bett’s portrayal of him is both humorous and repulsive, as he treats his servant, Lucky (Benny Young), like a monkey and slave.
It is a privilege for the audience to see these four artists embody their characters’, with each of their quirks, to perfection. As Beckett might have intended, Thomson allows for the performance to question the function of the play itself and its relationship with the audience. At one point Paterson turns to the audience with a sigh; ‘nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful’, he says, as if sympathizing with the audience who, if unaware of the concept of this play, could well be expecting some action and acknowledging that there will be none.
It is a pleasure to see four of Scotland’s greatest living actors on the stage together, inspiring laughter and won- der from start to finish. The play, in true Beckett style, gives ‘the impression that we exist’ and a welcome break from life’s burdens.