Sonnet 58, Line 13
I was literally in the process of reading Beckett’s famous masterpiece when the chance came up to see the new play Waiting for Waiting for Godot at the St James’ Theatre Studio (thanks to #LDNTheatreBloggers and Debbie – Mind the Blog – for the ticket!). The drama of two understudies desperately hoping to play Beckett’s two most famous leading men, Vladimir and Estragon, Waiting for Waiting for Godot seemed like a fun premise, if a little limited. And indeed, this is what it turned out to be; a reasonably entertaining evening for theatre buffs with sadly no particular point-of-view or depth to take it further.
The St James Studio, however, is the perfect location for the play. The set is a crowded dressing room, complete with tiny toilet and ironing board table, and full of entertaining props and costumes to be used throughout.The actual auditorium is intimate and relaxed, with bar stools and drinks tables adding to this atmosphere. Certainly at press night it seemed almost the entirety of the audience was made up of ‘theatre types’ – critics, bloggers, friends and family of the cast and crew, and theatre buffs. This helped enormously, as jokes about Pinter, RADA and Brecht I can imagine falling flat in a larger, more diverse audience received a warm chuckle from the luvvies. This isn’t to say the jokes weren’t funny, just that they were tailored to a specific audience. For example, the melodramatic vocal warm-ups of Simon Day as the older understudy Ester ponderously pronouncing the names of Latin American countries (“Costa Ricaaah” “Nicaraguahh”) were a great way to start the play. The script is indeed witty, but, by imitating much of the repetitive nature of Beckett’s original script, the wit ran on far longer than was necessary not only for one joke, but on multiple occasions.
Day and James Marlowe (as the much younger understudy, Val) perform their parts with gusto, showing both characters as inexperienced and naïve about “show business” as each other, and finding plenty amusing about passing the time as they wait for the mysterious ‘director’ to call them for their big break. Day’s self-important older actor who firmly (and wrongly) believes he knows all there is to know about theatre is by turns pompous and pathetic, whilst Marlowe is sweetly credulous as the younger man believing in the pretension of Ester. It just does feel like they are simply passing the time, rather than having anything deeper to say. The biggest points Dave Hanson’s script makes is that the backstage crew are underappreciated, and that being a successful actor is based predominantly on luck; points which have been made many times before. Laura Kirman nonetheless plays her part as the put-upon ASM with frustrated energy, and the three actors work together to produce some fun Python-esque physical comedy. The two men have a companionable bond which helps us warm to them, and understand their relationship even when both are behaving ludicrously (classic Waiting for Godot territory I guess…).
However, they are not helped by director Mark Bell’s decision to interrupt a 75 minute drama with a seemingly unnecessary 15-minute interval – leaving the second act at only around a quarter of an hour long. For all its cleverness in imitating Beckett’s style and for all its wit and humour, this script simply can’t sustain that kind of treatment. Saying this, it’s always pleasant to have seen a full performance by 9.30pm – and this isn’t a play with nothing to offer. The analogy between understudies and Beckett’s leads is clever and interesting (both waiting in blind hope for a mysterious figurehead to come and deliver them from an eternity of anticipating). Perhaps I should dodge trying to put it into my own words and pretentiously quote Beckett himself to sum up the essence of Waiting for Waiting for Godot:
Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.
Waiting for Waiting for Godot at the St James’ Theatre Studio: 2/5 stars