Pros: The production features a talented cast and the excellent Simon Day especially shines.
Cons: A play about actors talking about acting can be pretentious and comes dangerously close to navel gazing.
Whilst I’ve never doubted the significance of Samuel Beckett as a playwright, I always found his work mentally bruising with its often bleak outlook on life. I was buoyed, however, as I read the pre-show literature for Waiting For Waiting For Godot: two hapless understudies spend their time backstage trying to understand art, life, theatre and their precarious existence within it. They ponder Beckett, showbiz, what life is all about and how they might be the only people who truly understand Waiting For Godot.
These details, combined with the fact that the production stars Simon Day from The Fast Show and James Marlowe and Laura Kirman from The Play That Goes Wrong reassured me that this would be a much lighter offering than the typical Beckett production.
The play explores arguably the worst role in the acting profession, that of the understudy who patiently waits in the wings, ready to cover a leading actor who falls ill, and who dreams of featuring on a paper insert in the programme that reads ‘the role of Macbeth will tonight be played by’. Simon Day and James Marlowe as Ester and Val are waiting to play Vladimir and Estragon and know their roles backwards, forwards and sideways but feel like coiled springs, contemplating a chance that might never come. Laura Kirman plays Laura, officious stage manager who makes the occasional appearance, gently winding up Ester and Val with front of house developments.
Waiting For Waiting For Godot is a 90 minute show (including an interval) which rids the production of unnecessary padding and helps to maintain a sharp script. The three strong cast are excellent but Simon Day delivers the strongest performance as Ester, who could quite easily slot into a Fast Show sketch himself and easily ranks alongside characters ‘Competitive Dad’ and ‘Dave Angel, Earth Warrior’ from The Fast Show.
The interplay between Simon Day and James Marlowe is at times inspired, but the killer lines belong to the world weary Ester rather than the naïve, idealistic Val. Whilst the script can be extremely funny, it does occasionally wander off into an exposition on what it means to be an actor. This comes across as pretentious and self-absorbed and on the whole doesn’t do much for the story. The props also felt largely superfluous, particularly the falling ironing board, and were a distraction I could have done without.
Overall, Waiting For Waiting For Godot is great fun and ultimately wins through thanks to its good cast and strong writing. Moreover, it pays tribute to the real agonies that actors regularly endure for their art. I was left wondering whether ‘break a leg’ originated with understudies: it might be their only way to get a break… geddit?!
Author: Dave Hanson
Director: Mark Bell
Producer: Libby Brodie
Box Office: 0844 262 2140
Booking Link: https://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/book-tickets/?event=30606
Booking Until: 24 September 2016