Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Supertramps McKellen and Stewart Make This a Godot Worth Waiting for; FIRST NIGHT

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Supertramps McKellen and Stewart Make This a Godot Worth Waiting for; FIRST NIGHT

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK CURTIS

WAITING FOR GODOT

Theatre Royal Haymarket

***

THE dream team of Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart pulled a crowd including Sting, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir John Major to the opening of Samuel Beckett's bleak existentialist comedy. Small wonder. Bona fide classical actors as well as screen stars, both blessed with gravitas and comic timing, McKellen and Stewart have made a difficult play written in 1952 a hotter ticket than any musical.

The Pat 'n' Mac double-act turns out to be a inspired pairing, if slightly unbalanced in terms of pathos. As for the play: Sean Mathias's production harps a bit too much on its music-hall roots, and I'm increasingly convinced that Godot's problem is not that it's "difficult" but that it's too obvious.

McKellen and Stewart's Estragon and Vladimir are elderly down-and-outs, described by Beckett as clowns. The two actors movingly express the fond antagonism of a double-act where the patience, and the meagre bookings, ran out long ago. Where staying together is almost as agonising as being alone and the only joy lies in half-remembered vaudeville routines or the simple, touching act of holding hands.

Of the two, McKellen's scrubbybearded Estragon is the more convincingly derelict, his body language that of a man who sleeps rough, his mood swinging from childish rage to black humour to bewilderment. Vladimir is, by contrast, the explainer and encourager.Even so, there's something too irrepressibly twinkly and chipper about Stewart, despite his torn clothes.

We miss the anguish beneath the brightness.For this is famously a play where nothing happens, twice. The two tramps wait day after day -- beaten down by random violence, starvation, decrepitude and despair -- for a man who never comes. Beckett layers on image after image of what he sees as the pitiful condition of being human: our comical self-importance, our absurd hopes.

The wealthy Pozzo, who happens along with his slave Lucky, constantly fusses over daft social niceties and missing trinkets and is duly rendered blind in the second half. Some comedy. Simon Callow plays Pozzo as if simultaneously channelling a cruel ringmaster and Mr Toad. …

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