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Review: Waiting for Godot (Arts Theatre)

Samuel Beckett's absurdist play returns to the Arts 62 years after it premiered there

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Waiting for Godot
© Barry Rivett

Sixty two years on, and we're still waiting. Beckett's classic play returns to the theatre where it opened over six decades ago, in an assured outing from Irish company AC Productions. While the stories of the original run are the stuff of theatre legend – shock, horror, and heckling audiences – the odd thing perhaps about Waiting for Godot now is that, part in thanks to the Beckett estate's strictures, it can feel so very familiar.

And Peter Reid's production is somehow just what you think of when you think of Waiting for Godot. As they fruitlessly wait, two scruffy tramps pass the time like a music hall double act, walking a tragi-comic tightrope of existential despair, revealing both frustration and fondness in their interdependent relationship. The setting is simple, designed by Reid too: a bare stage, a small rock and a tree – a spindly white-painted, twisty crucifix of a thing here – against a pale, watery sunset. It's a solid staging of a work that feels eternally insightful into the absurdity of the human condition, and yet at the same time one which doesn't offer any especially sharp or fresh insights into the play.

In the standard filthy, ragged suits and bowler hats, the pair both move with a stiff sort of totter around the stage, and their comic timing is down pat, in a production that's been around – albeit with cast changes – since 2005. Nick Devlin as Vladimir is the more optimistic of the two, with a bird-like sprightliness, although he can be wistful and dreamy too, while Patrick O'Donnell is a superbly sulky Estragon, the perfect crescent of his downturned mouth occasionally flipping up with giggling childish glee. They nicely capture the reluctant tenderness of Gogo and Didi's friendship, and allow for odd moments of soft seriousness: there's a real delicacy, for instance, to their pattering dialogue in a moving passage about the voices of the dead.

The master and servant, Pozzo and Lucky, who arrive on the scene are wretchedly far apart: Paul Kealyn plays Pozzo, English-accented and dressed in immaculate riding gear, with the bumptious outward charm yet shameless rude-to-staff arrogance of the grotesquely privileged. Paul Elliot's much younger Lucky is entirely bent double with exhaustion, and barely able to carry out his master's cruelly capricious whims. When commanded to move Pozzo's stool, it takes all his effort to push it maybe an inch across the stage – a display of pointless power Pozzo clearly relishes. In this production, at this time, the worker who is expected to be grateful for the chance to run themselves into the ground is a Beckettian creation that feels particularly, bitterly resonant.

Waiting for Godot runs at the Arts Theatre until 23 September.