Stephen Brennan on Waiting for Godot

GALWAY THEATRE goers are in for a very special treat next weekend when Dublin’s Gate Theatre brings its world-renowned production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot to the Black Box, for one night only, this Saturday.

The Galway date is part of the Gate’s first ever all-Ireland tour, mounted to mark the theatre’s 80th anniversary, which sees Godot visit 40 venues across the country throughout September and October.

The play will also be staged in the Station House Theatre, Clifden, tomorrow at 8pm as part of the Clifden Community Arts Week.

The tour also marks the 20th anniversary of this now legendary production of Beckett’s play and stars the original cast members including Stephen Brennan, Barry McGovern, Johnny Murphy, and Alan Stanford.

It was in 1987 that Samuel Beckett asked Michael Colgan to stage Waiting for Godot at the Gate, and requested that Walter Asmus - his assistant director on the famous Schiller Theatre production in Germany- direct.

Hailed by the international press as “the definitive Godot”, this Gate production has since toured all over the world, including China, Melbourne, and Toronto, receiving unprecedented critical acclaim. It was also a central part of the Gate’s feted Beckett festivals in Dublin, New York, and London.

As Galway waits for Godot, cast-member Stephen Brennan - who takes the role of human packmule Lucky in the play -took time out from the show’s pell-mell travel schedule to reflect on its phenomenal success to date. I begin by asking him at what pointhe and the other cast-members first realised the production was going to be something special.

“I don’t suppose that, in 1988, any of us thought we’d still be doing this play 20 years later,” he begins. “Initially all we were focused on was just doing the play as well as we could. I think it was with one of the early revivals that it first dawned on us that the production had something special going for it.

“That was when Barry McGovern switched from playing Estragon to Vladimir and Johnny Murphy joined the cast. Also our director Walter Asmus - who’s German - had got more in tune with the Irish speech idioms so I think it was around that point that the show really clicked together.

“Walter had worked closely with Beckett himself on the production in the Schiller theatre so we always had a sense of doing the play as Beckett would have wanted it.”

The production has had numerous revivals since its 1988 debut, so has Brennan’s – and the other cast-members’- sense of the play altered over the years?

“At this stage the production feels like a fine wine that has matured,” he responds. “We’re all settled into our roles – not in a complacent way because we keep trying to refine them. Beckett himself was always stripping away anything that was extraneous from his scripts and we do the same with this production. Every time we come back to it we aim to keep it fresh.

“My own sense of the play has changed because I’m a different person now than when I first did it. I was 32 when I did Lucky first, I’m 52 now so I bring a different person’s view of life to the role and that colours my playing of it.”

The Gate’s Godot has already toured to Europe, Asia, and America and as it embarks on its pell-mell circuit of Ireland, Brennan reflects on the highs and lows of life on the road.

“Lucky suffers as a character – he’s laden beneath all this luggage - and I’ve shared some of that suffering playing the role,” he says. “One of my most vivid memories of the play is performing in sweltering heat in Seville in 1992 and having to take salt tablets beforehand to be sure I wouldn’t keel over, but I love the way in which the present tour evokes the days of the fit-up companies that traversed Ireland in days gone by.

“My own father was an actor in those kind of tours and told me stories about them so I do have a sense of that tradition. This tour has also been arranged with the Gate’s history in mind so that we started in Enniscorthy which is where Gate founders Micheal MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards first met - as part of Anew McMaster’s touring company.”

MacLiammoir and Edwards of course also had a notable stint in Galway overseeing the Taibhdhearc’s inaugural production of Diarmuid Agus Grainne just prior to their founding of the Gate. It’s a detail that adds one more note of resonance to the Gate’s Galway staging of Godot. All in all, it promises to be a memorable occasion.

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