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London Theatre Reviews

Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh/ Ph: Lisa Tomasetti



This entertaining production might not pierce the play’s poetic depths, but it leaves you in little doubt of what Beckett was getting at.

Beckett’s most famous play is often as notable for its visual impact as its emotional one. This new production for Sydney Theatre Company certainly doesn’t disappoint on that score. Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh’s Vladimir and Estragon are alone in what looks like the remains of a vast, abandoned, windswept theatre. A rusty proscenium arch frames the stage. A crumbing wall with radiators lies in shadow along the back. Yet the space itself is blasted with a freezing white light that throws the bare trunk of the single tree into stark relief. It’s as though a Siberian winter has encroached upon the last remains of civilisation.
Director Andrew Upton took over this production from Hungarian director Tamas Ascher, so it’s hard to know precisely where Upton’s input begins. But if one assumes Ascher, working in collaboration with set designer Zsolt Khell, is responsible for the production’s visual conception, one can be fairly confident Upton – who has proven himself a bracingly non-reverential adaptor of Chekhov – is behind its simple narrative directness. This might not be the most profound or moving Godot, but it is one of the clearest and most pleasingly unpretentious productions I’ve seen for some time.
It’s not uncommon to cast Vladimir and Estragon as two old music hall veterans, reliving their glory days through an intuitive double act of vaudevillian clowning. There is certainly a strong whiff of that theatricality in Weaving and Roxburgh’s antic physical comedy, although most of the production’s visual references point to the silent movie era rather than the theatre. Yet this Vladimir and Estragon, waiting in fidgety perpetuity for the Godot who never comes, are striking mainly for a beautifully individuated relationship that is as full of warmth and love as it is quarrel and despair. Weaving is surely the most twinkle-eyed Vladimir to grace the stage. He adopts the seemingly unruffled demeanour of the down on his uppers English gent – all plumy vocals and raffish affectation. Adorning that now shapeless, derelict suit was surely once a purple cravat. This Vladimir is a showman, turning each new calamitous aspect of his and Gogo’s unending predicament into an opportunity to be relished, although every so often that carefully held together performance betrays a terrible strain. Roxburgh’s Estragon, by contrast, is coarser, more truculent, more obviously depressed. Yet as these two old dogs pull back and forth over the course of the play, you sense it is love that has kept them together over and above anything else. "We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?" says Roxburgh’s Estragon. It’s one of the production’s most affirmative moments.

The appearance of Pozzo and Lucky shifts the production into something stranger and more dangerous. A masterful portrait in pedantic tyranny, Philip Quast’s Pozzo initially appears the fat, fully lived-in master to Luke Mullins’s withered, half-dead slave Lucky. Yet both men end up as ruined as the other. It is in these last scenes that Upton’s production fully comes together, with a final lingering tableau of four men adrift in a wasteland of broken memory and incoherent history. This unfailingly entertaining production might not quite pierce the play’s poetic depths, but it leaves you in little doubt of just what Beckett was getting at.