Edward Beckett, nephew of Samuel and current manager of the Beckett estate, is known as a bit of a stickler in theatre circles. If a company is to think of producing one of the Irish dramatist’s plays, they must set themselves up for a long process of negotiation with the executor and would be naïve to expect much leeway when it comes to veering off the beaten track. Considering this, it’s no huge surprise that Smock Alley Theatre’s current production of Waiting for Godot doesn’t offer much when it comes to new ways of thinking about this play.
One of the defining touches of this production is Ronan Dempsey’s interpretation of Pozzo. With a drawn-out maniacal laugh and a melodramatic weep, Dempsey presents a cartoon villain more than anything else. His more subdued performance in the second act is preferable. His partner-in-crime (Simon Stewart as Lucky) lacks any precision in his despairing shuffles and shuns the common trope of playing a mechanical slave. The famed speech is delivered with an unusual level of autonomy and a human voice; the effect is not one that trumps preconceptions about how the character should be played, however. The two pave the way for a lot of chaos on-stage, an element not often linked to Beckett’s work.
Charlie Hughes carries the show as Vladimir, paired with Donal Courtney as Estragon — again moving slightly away from the typical portrayal by presenting an aggravated rather than a jaded Gogo. Hughes keeps the audience entertained throughout with fantastic facial expressions, and reaches a peak when dealing with the Boy. Torsten Brescanu shines in his brief appearances, interacting brilliantly with Hughes, and is a promising child actor. The play as a whole improves in the latter half, but fails to really wow anywhere. The one area in which theatre companies are afforded a little room to play with this text is in set design, but Colm McNalley has chosen to stick to the usual lone rock and bare tree – onto which a single leaf is attached during the interval.
Productions of this writer’s challenging work can often fall into two categories; those who aim to reach a new audience, easing them into Beckett with a reliance on comedy; and those who seek to relentlessly break borders, leaving beginners behind. Patrick Sutton’s choice of direction for this Godot falls somewhere in between these two polarities, as it often misses out on some of the humour in the play-text while still presenting a deliberately boisterous cast. Intrigue in this Nobel Prize-winner will attract an audience to this show, but it does not go recommended to newcomers or veterans of Beckett’s work.