Beckett bares his comic side

Clementine Stott 11 November 2007

Samuel Beckett once declared that his tragicomic masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, was all about “the suffering of being”. Not so in Horseshoe Theatre’s current production, which definitely veers more towards the comic than the tragic. Perhaps it’s because Stephen Siddall sticks closely to the French original, rather than the English translation (more obscenities), that this production comprises some of the least depressing, and most entertaining Beckett to be seen in recent years.

There was certainly something strangely warm and fuzzy in the atmosphere on opening night. There was an endearing air of ‘am-dram’ hovering over the stage from the very start, from the overly warm lighting to the DIY gaffa-taped ‘boulder’ over which various characters (tentatively) draped themselves. It was eviden that the bitter sting of nihilism was not, on this occasion, going to be driving audience members into troughs of suicidal depression. Yet when so many Beckett productions today emphasise the grotesque and sinister elements of the text, it felt distinctly refreshing to emerge into the foyer with a smile on my face.

Chiefly responsible for this strange phenomenon were Jared Morgan and James Clarkson, as ‘Estragon’ and ‘Vladimir’ respectively. Between them, they managed to turn the relationship between the tramps into a comedy double-act – no mean feat, all things considered. However, on this occasion, there seemed to be a genuine brotherly love emanating from the two (who embraced, on my count, what is surely a record twelve times during the course of the play).

The verbal sparring was seamless and felt natural; the slapstick physical interplay was similarly slick. Clarkson in particular had the uncanny ability to make lines like “Get up till I embrace you!” ring with an emotional authenticity; even when declaring ‘Estragon’s’ wound was “beginning to fester” his tone was unusually affectionate.

The companionable feel between the ‘Vladimir’ and ‘Estragon’ actors was, of course, tested almost to breaking point when put under the extreme pressure of forced improvisation, when a rather patchy Act I almost fell apart at the seams. However, while Rob Hallam’s ‘Pozzo’ might have been able to claim “my memory is defective” with absolute veracity, the cast managed to pull together admirably for a much-sharpened Act II. In fact, I personally found Hallam’s portrayal entirely redeemed itself, by virtue of its (slightly incongruous) suggestion of Only Fools and Horses’ ‘Boycie’.

In all, the production could fall foul of Beckett purists for lacking that brutality and bite which once made Waiting for Godot a deeply controversial play. However, in a culture desensitized to violence and obscenity on the stage it might be the case that Beckett’s role is no longer merely to shock; and judging by audience reactions to Siddall’s fantastically accessible production, the viewing public is prepared to welcome him as comedian with open arms.

Clementine Stott