A COUNTRY road. A tree. Evening. Vladimir and Estragon meet as dusk approaches. Estragon tries to remove his boot. Vladimir examines his hat. A conversation begins, a joke is interrupted. A carrot is eaten. They quarrel, then embrace. A pair of eccentric travellers arrive - seemingly master and servant - one stands weighed down at the end of a long rope, the other carries a whip.
So unfolds Samuel Beckett’s 60-year-old masterpiece Waiting for Godot. Part allegory, part burlesque, Beckett’s timeless play moves seamlessly between absurdist comedy and captivating philosophical drama.
Next week Galway audiences can savour an excellent new staging of Godot at the Town Hall Theatre courtesy of London Classic Theatre. The company have visited Galway several times in recent years and anyone who has seen their performances before will know it delivers work of high quality.
London Classic Theatre was formed in 1993 by Michael Cabot, who has directed its work to date, and this year marks the 15th anniversary of their commencement of touring. “I started the company straight out of drama school to give myself a job,” Cabot tells me. “We began on the London fringe doing European classics then, in 2000, we started working on the UK touring circuit and from 2002 onwards we’ve been coming to Ireland. We’ve grown slowly throughout the years, picking up more venues, and building relationships with some great theatres – especially in Ireland I must say. We keep doing the work and people seem to like it.”
Remarkably, the company receive no grant aid. I ask if that is by happenstance or design. “I guess it’s by design,” Cabot replies. “At the very beginning the chance of getting any UK Arts Council funding for what we did – good plays well done but largely mainstream drama – was negligible. That made me quite belligerent really and we got used to making things work however we had to. To start with we were on incredibly tight budgets and relying on great goodwill from all the people we worked with.
"I tried to foster an attitude of ‘let’s just get on with it and produce the best work we can’. That becomes a mindset after a while and as we’ve progressed things have got easier financially. Now I am glad we didn’t go down the funding route because there is great freedom in not having to ask permission about what you want to do. Other companies have to seek approval and work to certain criteria and that to me isn’t what theatre should be about, it should be about doing work you are passionate about and getting on with it.”
Cabot describes his directorial vision; “I have strong instincts about the plays I work on but from my point of view there is nothing better than getting really fired-up, intelligent, interested, committed people into a room and doing the best you can to bring the play to life and I think that is where our company is very strong. I’m not a director who’s very fussy or tries to set plays in different periods, I try to make the play work on its own terms. Having said that, our Godot, in design terms, is a very bold production because it does something very different that I don’t think has been done before. That’s not so much my vision as my designer’s but I see my role as enabling other people to do their best work.”
Godot’s designer is Bek Palmer and Cabot enlarges on her contribution; “Bek does a lot of installation work as an artist and she has a very clear vision of how she wants the space to look and how the play speaks to her. The stage instructions for Godot describe a tree and a country road, that’s all Beckett gives you and with most productions you just find exactly that, a bare space and the suggestion of some kind of pathway, with a single tree and a moon. Bek was keen to express what the play said to her in terms of its subtext and themes and what the characters said to her, she was keen to bring all that to life in a very definite visual way. We don’t have a single tree sitting in the middle of a stage, we have something much more interesting I think.”
The play’s two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, are played by Peter Cadden and Richard Heap. “We did an extra week’s rehearsal with Peter and Richard just to talk about the relationship of Vladimir and Estragon,” Cabot reveals. “We picked the play apart and explored the dynamics of that relationship. It goes back 50 years and they’ve been doing this same thing, perhaps every day for all of those years, so they understand each other very well. Getting the two actors to forge a good relationship between each other in the rehearsal room and onstage was really important to me.
“It’s such a fantastic play,” Cabot concludes. “Audiences sometimes think it is going to be a long evening where nothing happens, you just have these two old guys onstage, there’s lots of philosophising, the guy they are waiting for never shows – all of that can make it seem quite a dense play but what our production does, and what I am very pleased with, is that it is very light on its feet, it’s enjoyable, it holds the audience’s attention and is completely engaging.”
Waiting for Godot plays the Town Hall on Wednesday November 4 and Thursday 5 at 8pm. For tickets contact 091 - 569777 or see www.tht.ie