“Let’s go.” “We can’t.” “Why not?” “We’re waiting for Godot.” “Ah, yes.”
If a play was really good and you get to see it a second time for free – would you go? I did. On Friday night I went to the Drama Theatre of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts together with my English course, and watched a fascinating performance of the most significant English language play of the 20th century: Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. And on Saturday afternoon, with the Theatre course, I went again. It was totally worth it.
“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!” – Estragon
Steve, the theatre god of LPC, had warned all, who had never seen or read the play before: “It might appear that nothing is happening for two hours.” And that is somewhat how it was. Yet, it was the most exciting and mind-blowing nothing that I have ever experienced. For those who have never seen any staging of the play, a tragicomedy at its best, a short summary: Two men, Estragon [Gogo] and Vladimir [Didi] wait in a scarce landscape for someone called Godot. They don’t know who he is, they don’t know what he looks like, they don’t know if he will surely come and they don’t know if it is this spot and this time they are supposed to wait for him – but they wait. They wait and wait and wait, doing anything to pass the time. At some points, they are joined by two other men, Pozzo and his human slave Lucky. Pozzo shows off his power over Lucky and Lucky as dependent person under Pozzo’s control follows orders without flaw. But apart from that – nothing happens. Everybody just waits.
“People are bloody ignorant apes.” – Estragon
The ABA Productions staging of “Waiting for Godot” was amusing, appalling, compulsive, revolting and exciting; all at once. The actors had been clearly chosen well: their interaction and their fluency was so thrilling that it was hard to take one’s eyes off their lips when they spoke, off their eyes when they gazed into the audience, off their bodies when moving grotesquely all around stage. It seemed they all did not play their roles but they were their roles – which, for me, is the ultimate skill in theatre, especially when so surreal and absurd : to convince the audience, that it is “real”. On the other side, the actors simply had to be better than good, as all of the play depended on them. What else was there to distract the audience – nothing! The set: A tree, a rock, a road – the later to be imagined. The costumes: Black hats, suits, Estragon’s boots, dirty and old. The sound effects: Not existent, the only sound was made by the actors. The lightening: Changing between day and night, continuously and faultless. It was all up to the actors whether the performance would succeed or not.
“We are all born mad. Some remain so.” – Estragon
What is still stuck in my mind the most of the whole play, is Lucky’s monologue. Ordered to “think!” by his master Pozzo after he has already danced for Vladimir and Estragon, Lucky puts on a hat which enables him to “think”. What I found personally very interesting, was Pozzo’s order to Didi and Gogo to “step back!”, before letting Lucky start – as if thinking was a contagious disease, as if it was dangerous, as if Lucky could grow to uncontrollable forces that one shouldn’t be too near to. As Lucky thinks, he spits out a tirade of words, seemingly incoherent, randomly thrown together, endlessly speeding up. I had goosebumps all over my skin at its performance, the atmosphere among the audience balanced on a thin, nearly ripping thread between tension and excitement, astonishment and pure wonder. The monologue seemed to never end, Lucky came up with new words, again and again and again, repeating what he had already said. The audience’s concentration started to drop but was driven up again suddenly and at random when Lucky started to scream, and then grew silent again. It was captivating, horrifying, grotesque, all at once. On one side one wanted it to stop, but on the other one wanted it to last, wanted just to listen to this rambling of words out of a human mouth. It was magnificent, excellent, overwhelming. Theatre at its best.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!” – Estragon
“Waiting for Godot” is a play that remains beyond all description. One cannot understand, one has to see. One has to see the close bond between Estragon and Vladimir, has to witness them laughing, arguing and dreaming together, to be able to understand. One has to see the pitiful creature of Lucky, has to feel the own stomach cringing at his bent, wretched and sore shape, to be able to understand. One has to see Pozzo’s huge figure, mistreating and abusing Lucky at such unbearable rate that it is hard to keep your eyes on it, to be able to understand. One has to see the tree, shaped like a cross; the boy, all dressed in white, innocent like a young rabbit; Estragon’s boots, old and tatty; the hats; the worn-out whip … One has to see.
“That’s the way I am. Either I forget immediately or I never forget.” – Estragon
The performance was simply mind-blowing. A spectacular play, performed by splendid actors, who knew how to take the breath away from the audience. After each staging, when I came back to campus, people would ask me how it was and what it was about. What was I to answer? “Nothing,” I said – after all, Vladimir and Estragon themselves had emphasized often enough on the fact that “nothing” is happening in this play. It’s a play about two people waiting for ever for something that is never going to come. They pass their time with fun and distress, and from time to time they forget what they are actually waiting for. But every day they come back to wait, and even though they agree on leaving or hanging themselves, they never do either, remaining in desperate hope – for ever: “We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. Unless Godot comes.” “And if he comes?” “We’re saved.”
Bravo. It was clearly one of the best theatre performances I have ever seen.
[Director: Peter Reid. Producer: Alex Cusack. Estragon: Patrick O’Donnell. Vladimir: Marcus Lamb. Pozzo: Paul Kealyn. Lucky: Nick Devlin. An ABA Production.]