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Surely tomorrow? - Waiting for Godot at Circa

Surely tomorrow?

Waiting for Godot
Circa Theatre
Until 1 June 2019
Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke

Circa’s current production of Waiting for Godot is a fine, understated rendition of a contemporary classic.

The last time I saw the play, at the Barbican in London, it had an immensely vertical set, fitted out in intense rust and copper colours, portending high drama. Circa’s production is much simpler and lets nothing distract from the rock and the tree that comprise the setting’s main elements, augmented by some disturbing off-stage piles of rubble that resemble skulls.

Waiting for Godot is famously a fairly bleak experience, a play that constantly denies the audience any sense of resolution. But within the constraints laid down by the text, this production plays up as much of a lighter side as can be found, deliberately privileging the moments of absurd humour, the tears and laughter, the enduring warmth that persists, through difficulty, between the two leads.

And as Vladimir and Estragon, Andrew Foster and Jeff Kingsford-Brown are both excellent. The latter produces a performance of intense vitality, one that balances moments of beaming, gurning bafflement with genuine pathos. Foster has, I think, the tougher role, because Vladimir knows more, sees more, cannot ‘be’ just one thing. But he plays it well in a performance that has something of the homespun Kiwi philosopher about it.

The production as a whole has a distinctively local feel, and the classic Kiwi speech patterns, which turn everything into a question, work well in a play that is all questions and no answers, as when the Boy, after noting that Godot hasn’t turned up today, adds, ‘[But] surely tomorrow?’

The resolutely low key style of the production creates the odd problem; some of Vladimir’s more intellectual and declamatory lines sit oddly with the weave, the fabric of the rest of the dialogue.
A few other touches distract from the overall effect. The moon projected on the back of the set slides into position very artificially, and the swelling music, especially at the end, seems completely inappropriate to so sparse a play, diminishing rather than augmenting the pathos.

The acting, however, is uniformly good. In addition to the leads, Peter Hambleton is a joy as Pozzo. Patrician but also pathetic, alternating immense cruelty with feigned self-pity, he provides a striking case study in the fragility of oppression and power structures. And as his much put-upon Lucky, Jack Buchanan is a striking physical presence who gives us an unforgettable outburst of semi-articulate rage.

Most importantly perhaps, this spare and relatively gentle rendering of the play allows us to focus on its core components: the desperate struggle to create meaning in a world where there is nothing ‘above’ us to offer it, and the human potential that lies in rare, hard-won moments of friendship. This is, in short, a quietly confident rendition of a famously daunting play, and one well worth seeing.

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