It was Peter Hall’s decision to make Vladimir and Estragon, the play’s central characters, tramps. It seems to make sense – the two characters are definitely without occupation. We find them standing (or sitting, or lying) on a stage that is totally bare apart from a leafless tree and a rock. They have only one reason for being there – they are waiting for Godot. Apart from that, they know as little about their situation or motivation as we do. They can’t quite work out how many days they have spent waiting here, and they’re not even sure what will happen when Godot finally arrives. So they have to find ways of passing the time, which seems to be a major effort. Vladimir (played by James Laurenson) is more hopeful, but at the same time more obviously upset by his position, whereas Estragon (Alan Dobie) seems more resigned to his fate – a little further gone. From the way they talk, it’s obvious they’ve been together for a long time, and they bicker like an old married couple.
Halfway through both the first and second acts, they are interrupted by Pozzo (Terence Rigby) and Lucky (Richard Dormer). Pozzo is dressed up like a country gent, or colonial explorer, and keeps Lucky, his manservant, on a leash. I don’t think anyone in the audience will forget Lucky. He is dressed even more shabbily than Vladimir and Estragon, and seems to be perpetually on the point of expiring as he carries around two heavy bags and caters to his master’s every whim. His face is made up in ghoulish black and white, and he has a constant stream of dribble descending from his chin. (Spit, by the way, plays a major part in the evening’s performance. The black background and harsh lighting mean you can see what comes out of the actors’ mouths with every sentence). He also has the play’s most shocking moment – a long, intense, unbroken monologue which, though made up of bits of sentences that seem to make sense, is totally impossible to follow. It’s a lot like Beckett’s shorter, more extreme plays such as Not I.
It’s great to see Godot performed so well, by actors who clearly care about the lines. I wondered if this version leans a little more to the comic, but it still gives you a pretty hefty existential thump. I think what this production is best on is the relationship between Vladimir and Estragon. They are performing for us, but you feel strongly how much everything they do is partly for the other character’s benefit, how they need each other’s support to go on. It’s quite touching, but like everything in this play, rather disturbing at the same time.