Waiting for Waiting for Godot at St James Theatre
It’s a bold move basing your play on perhaps the most famous non-Shakespearean text in the Western world, written by arguably the most important and influential playwright since, well, the Bard himself. Yet that’s just what Dave Hanson does with Waiting for Waiting for Godot, a tale of two understudies backstage at a production of Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece suffering a theatrical version of Estragon and Vladimir’s perpetually expectant fate.
This kind of metatextual trickery isn’t new, of course. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is probably the most famous example, while just this year the Royal Court hosted the English premiere of Ophelias Zimmer. Both position themselves itself in opposition to their source text – in this case Hamlet – aiming to elucidate something previously hidden. Waiting for Waiting for Godot, on the other hand, is merely content to pootle alongside its namesake, somewhat stranded in the murky ground between adaptation and standalone piece.
It probably comes as no surprise to say that Hanson’s play doesn’t hold a candle to Waiting for Godot; ambiguity and absurdism are swapped for broad theatre jokes and generic discussions about the text’s meaning. That may be unfair though – Hanson likely had no intention to match Beckett. Yet he opens up too many opportunities for comparison by so nakedly shadowing the themes and structure of the original Godot when, if anything, the sitcom-angst of the understudies would better be served by a play that doesn’t lean so heavily on a different text.
This is not to say that there aren’t moments of real humour in WFWFG. Laura Kirkman (effectively appearing as this play’s version of Pozzo) scores big laughs with her cue-laden rendition of Beckett’s text, and there are there are scenes of masterful extended repetition. However, Simon Day and James Marlowe as Ester and Val respectively never really get to grips with their roles – Day ends up as a caricature of a caricature of a buffoonish actor, while Marlowe fails to find the right kind of naïve foolishness for his classic idiot. The lack of chemistry between the two leads hampers Hanson’s script, giving a disjointed tone to something that already feels like a series of skits stitched together. This could be traced back to the play’s very conception: understudies waiting to appear in Waiting for Godot. It’s a great sketch idea, but one that doesn’t have the legs to sustain itself over 90 minutes.
Waiting for Waiting for Godot is at St James Theatre from 30th August until 24th September 2016, for further information or to book visit here.