Two men sit under a tree. It could be the beginning of a terrible joke and yet it's the simple scenario for what is considered as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
It last surfaced in London at the Haymarket, where Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan attracted strings of stars and an extended run. While this national tour is garnering less feverish admiration, it deserves rich praise.
An all-black cast sees West Yorkshire Playhouse and black-led Talawa Theatre put their stamp on Beckett's classic where "nothing happens, twice".
For starters, the two men Waiting for Godot both speak with a West Indian lilt. Patrick Robinson's grumpy Estragon and Jeffery Kissoon's good-natured, wry Vladimir make an excellent pair, fertile silences dissolving into gleeful bickering or stupid bowler hat-swapping.
Cornell S John's Pozzo carries himself with the arrogance and assurance of a slave owner, with bizarre, ghastly tics. Guy Burgess is excellent as his servant, poor, pathetic Lucky, while Fisayo Akinade's Boy is shy, hesitant, Caribbean hints coming through as he addresses Vladimir and Estragon as "sah".
Resonances with African colonial history aren't to be lost on directors Ian Brown (WYP) and Patricia Cumper (Talawa), with the latter noting the experiences ring especially true for the Caribbean setting; these parallels aren't crowbarred in, but sit uneasily well with Beckett's text.
Entertaining and thought-provoking, this is much meatier stuff than the WYP's and Talawa's last outing together (Rum and Coca Cola in Leeds in 2010) - a fitting way for their outgoing artistic directors to hand over the reins.
- Vicky Ellis