It is amazing these days to consider that Samuel Beckett s Waiting for Godot was once thought of as a revolutionary play. In days gone by, it was reviled by mainstream critics; now, in Peter Hall s revival of his original Old Vic production, it sits proudly on the West End stage.
And what a revelation it is. Perhaps we have spent so long debating the intricacies and the existential meanings within the play that we have forgotten how funny it is. In this production, we are returned to Beckett s roots. The two tramps, Vladimir (Julian Glover) and Estragon (Alan Dobie), are played as a pair of down-at-heel Irishmen, their cross-talk and bickering partly resembling an old-fashioned Pat and Mike music hall act and partly a long marriage that his run its course. While funny to watch, this also lends an underlying sadness to the piece.
I didn t see last year s production at the Old Vic Theatre (starring Ben Kingsley and Alan Howard), but it s hard to envisage Kingsley pulling off a more compelling Estragon than Dobie s. Without a doubt, Dobie dominates the stage. He struts and bellows like a demented Irish bantam, by turn infuriated by his memory lapses, his poverty, his boredom and, most importantly, by his dependence on Glover s long-suffering Vladimir, who plays the nearest thing to a straight man. Glover smiles seraphically at Dobie s outbursts and petulance. (Perhaps it s only accidental, but the fact that his grin resembles Stan Laurel s emphasises the music hall aspect of their conversations.)
The excellent cast is completed by Terence Rigby s squire of the manor Pozzo and Struan Rodger as his put-upon servant/slave Lucky, looking like he s escaped from the recent Countryside March. He looks disdainfully as Estragon and Vladimir infringe his personal space. “The road is free to all,” he remarks sadly - obviously wishing that it wasn t.
Forty years on, Waiting for Godot remains a marvellous play, and this excellent production sits proudly among other, glitzier West End fare.
Maxwell Cooter, March 1998