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Waiting for Godot (Sheffield Crucible)

Charlotte Gwinner revives Beckett's classic play at the Crucible

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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How to renew the shock and surprise of Waiting for Godot? For anyone seeing the play for the first time in Charlotte Gwinner's perfectly alright production, the question is irrelevant. And this, after all, is the first main stage Beckett barney in Daniel Evans's artistic directorship at Sheffield.

But the two tramps caught in a state of stasis by a blasted tree and passing the time - which would have passed anyway - in a casual canter of banter have become inhabitants of their own mythology. To such an extent, indeed, that it's impossible to feel that the play is taking any liberty at all with our sense of what is acceptable and appropriate in a theatre.

Maybe that is Gwinner's point. The four characters wear identical black bowlers. Jeff Rawle's white-bearded Estragon is the nervier, jumpier of the tramps, having passed into a state of acceptance where nothing is to be done. He can't even get his boots off. Lorcan Cranitch's dominant, musically Irish Vladimir can, and places them at the front of a stage like a jester's bladder, or Ken Dodd's tickling stick.

They are interrupted twice by the mountainous, jovial figure of Richard Cordery's Pozzo, representative of the authoritarian, mercantile world that has passed these men by, rendered them marginal, stateless, homeless and rejected. This is all perfectly okay with Pozzo, whose diagonal across the featureless stage is defined by the slavish progress of Bob Goody's extraordinary Lucky, an equine hobo with a face as long as giant banana.

Lucky's indecipherable speech is a cascade of jumbled reminiscence of social life and philosophy. Goody makes it sound like a programmed feature of a brain that has otherwise lost all organising capacity. The man is a bestial figment, just as Vladimir and Estragon are in a perpetual limbo of resignation and preparation. But for what? Spoiler alert: Godot never comes.

They contradict each other, brush up their cross-talk, dash behind a boulder for a pee, exchange radishes and turnips. Estragon says he will go and get a carrot. He does not move. "This is becoming really significant." "Not enough." Nobody in the audience thinks this is peculiar.

Gwinner says she thought of setting the play among the refugees at Calais, or perhaps on the beach at Lesbos. She doesn't, rightly, because this is a play that is semi-abstract, devoid of darker conditions of poverty and penury, a distillation of despair.

A comedy, in fact, and Rawle and Cranitch play their roles and role-playing to pretty near perfection. Simon Daw's design adds two grey plastic-looking boulders to the image of the tree, which is uprooted. The place looks like an art gallery, and when Godot's emissary, the small boy, arrives, I thought he'd turned up to say it was ten minutes to closing time.

Waiting for Godot runs at Sheffield Crucible until 27 February.

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