A single dead tree and a scatter of autumn leaves set a perturbingly bleak scene for the barn’s production of Waiting for Godot. But, for a play in which, infamously, ‘nothing happens, twice’, the time passed astonishingly quickly; even if it would have passed anyway. This was a compelling, darkly comic piece of work.
Rory Hern (Vladimir) and Nick Devlin (Estragon), had a great onstage chemistry which, combined with faultless comic timing, kept the play going. Pete Watts delivered an outstanding performance as the pompous yet pitiful Pozzo. Absurd scenes such as the exchange of hats and the distribution of carrots were delivered in such a charmingly matter of fact way that it was rare for a joke to feel stretched or overdone.
This was an important achievement, since an underpinning element of Samuel Beckett’s plays is an uncompromisingly dark outlook on human life. Vladimir and Estragon wait in a vacuum of boredom, forgetfulness, physical and mental pain for a salvation in the form of Godot. A man they’ve never met and aren’t even sure exists.
Appropriately, there were many genuinely chilling moments. Hern’s quiet delivery of the play’s darkest line: ‘lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps’, set aside any comedy, while Pozzo’s breakdown delivered a refreshingly furious contrast.
However, the dramatic and tragic elements of the play were not in appropriate equilibrium. The silences tended to be too comfortable and the acting was not always strong enough to convey the play’s intrinsic sense of isolation and despair. For instance, Lucky’s monologue, delivered by Peter Marshall was let down by a somewhat unconvincing reaction from Vladimir and Estragon. The pair an uncomfortable majority of the scene as static entities. There was a vague look of pain, horror and confusion on their faces, but not to the extent where they enhanced the scene’s dramatic potential.
These occasional moments of clumsy acting were compounded by a couple of technical issues. Firstly, the actors sometimes blocked each other from view, excluding parts of the audience from several fairly lengthy sections of dialogue. Secondly, the tree, striking as it was, slightly obscured the vision of those sat behind it.
Nevertheless, this was a very rewarding and enjoyable performance. Waiting for Godot is a challenging play; the situations are bizarre, the lines often make little sense, it is difficult to accomplish the balance of comedy and tragedy. Redeeming this the comic timing was spot on and the tragic moments, when they occurred, were undeniably moving.