As a fairly new addition to Cape Town’s rhetorical stage of theatre sports, The Fugard Theatre has established itself as host to a number of top-class productions over the past few months. The internationally-acclaimed Waiting for Godot is no exception.
Like many curious audiences I was drawn to the big names that were thrown about in all the hype generated by this play. Sir Ian McKellen, whom most of our generation knows as Gandalf, delivered both a skilfully blundering and articulate performance alongside charismatic Roger Rees in what is considered one of the most prominent works in the ‘Theatre of the Absurd.’ This pair of celebrated actors took to our local stage in an eccentric rendition of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play, under the fine-tuned direction of Sean Mathias.
In what reminds me of a melancholic Laurel and Hardy episode, Rees and McKellen provide empathy within their misplacement. With childlike delight and ironic moments these characters unravel a tragicomedy that extends beyond their clowning around in a stark, elementary landscape. They remain in perpetual waiting, of human consciousness and of time, and delayed in any true understanding of the meaning of love. Instead this fringed pair of vagrants wanders the timeless space that is staged by the play’s raw naturalism.
As soon as the interval lights went on I wandered out of the first half of Godot feeling perplexed and a little frustrated. It was enough having seen Sir Ian McKellen in the flesh, but the play itself had also just about enough existentialist pondering to last any intellectual or critic a lifetime, let alone the average theatre-goer looking for a good matinee of weekend entertainment. By the end I had questions. Many. As a play conceived so essentially and stripped down to its purest theatrical elements, it is no wonder that it can be interpreted in a myriad of social, political and religious takes.
Waiting for Godot was famously described as ‘a play in which nothing happens, twice.’ That’s the point: there is barely one. The true ‘point’ of Godot is to make you feel uncomfortable in your cushiony seat of being, to challenge your existence and to ask things. There is so much room for interpretation, but maybe a degree in English Literature or Philosophy might help you to leave more satisfied with your understanding of Waiting of Godot’s crafty philosophic innuendos.