|Photograph: John Watson (Vladimir) and Harry Love (Estragon) keep their appointment.|
Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot
Dir. Richard Huber
With Harry Love, John Watson, Jimmy Currin, and Jerome Cousins
18 August – 28 August 2011 Globe Theatre, Dunedin, New Zealand
No, not that Johnny-come-lately, that mere imitation on the South Bank of the Thames – this is the Dunedin Globe Theatre, New Zealand, which in 2011 celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. And what better way to do so than to re-enact the play that, more than any other, brought Beckett within the ramparts of that fair city? Patric and Rosalie Carey in 1959 staged the first Dunedin production of Waiting for Godot in the University of Otago’s Allen Hall. Not an unqualified success, it nevertheless brought the play into public consciousness, and drew blood in the local newspapers between those dismissive of ‘screwball experimental dramatists’ and others who felt that denizens of a university town ‘should not be afraid of using their brains’. Both reactions encouraged the Careys, two years later, to turn their home into a small amateur theatre, dedicated to quality drama, both classical and experimental.
The Globe flourished, despite a rocky beginning. Its first offering, Romeo and Juliet, turned quite literally hundreds of people away; but the second, Endgame, played on opening night to an audience of fifteen, and on the next to two. Nothing daunted, the Careys persisted in their folly, and in 1966 mounted an excellent Godot, with a stage designed by Ralph Hotere, already one of New Zealand’s recognized artists. Geoffrey Jowett, the 1966 Estragon, turned up for the 2011 rerun, all hope apparently not yet extinguished. In its first years of operation, the Dunedin Globe mounted eight Beckett productions, more than the rest of the country combined. Thus began a tradition of a close association between town and gown, for although the Globe has remained fiercely independent over the past five decades it has relied on the university (though not exclusively) for both actors and audience.
The 2011 Waiting for Godot was no exception, the play supported financially by the University of Otago Humanities Performing Arts and Dunedin City Council Creative Communities funds. Directed by Richard Huber, it featured Harry Love as Estragon, John Watson as Vladimir, Jimmy Currin as Pozzo, Jerome Cousins as Lucky, and Liam Johnston as the Boy. Audience reaction was positive, there were good houses for all ten sessions, and it was reviewed favourably. I had some quibbles: the stage setting seemed to have taken its cue from the recent (London) National Theatre production, the perfectly abject tree somewhat at odds with the detritus at the back of the stage; the Boy did not look as ‘angelic’ as Beckett would have wanted him to be; and the actors occasionally had to retake their cues from one another as the odd line was missed or slipped a little. John Watson and Harry Love are, however, old campaigners, and recovered well, on one night debating at length the dubious merits of a second carrot as they awaited the belated arrival of Pozzo and Lucky. Harry Love, in particular, was a superb Estragon, with an impeccable Irish brogue, and while John Watson played perhaps more for pathos than despair, his Vladimir complemented Harry’s Estragon admirably. More controversial was Jimmy Currin as Pozzo: he was suitably bullying and blustering, but there was nothing of the Ascendency Landlord about him or his proletarian choice of dress, and thus an important aspect of the play was underplayed.
There are many Godots, with vast differences between the musical-hall and silent movie slapstick of the early 1950s productions and the more serious stage iconography of some later versions, including those done in Germany under Beckett’s personal direction. (I am reminded of the irreverent jest: what does a Frenchman, an Englishman, and a German find funny; answer [respectively]: a worm in an apple, half a worm, two verms.) Opinion will remain divided as to what constitutes the right timing and tone, but this small-city performance, with its various faults and excellencies, got one thing right: the audience liked it. My critical judgement told me time and again that there were aspects of the play, with respect to poignant emphasis and an underlying tragic vision (the latter perhaps too muted), that might have been done rather differently; yet the audience laughed, and at the right places, and went away feeling good about what they had seen. This might seem somewhat unreflective (‘What do we do now, now that we are happy?’ as Estragon asks), but John Watson and Harry Love were very funny, and a production that accentuates the comic elements without altogether losing their tragic intimations at least constitutes a useful reminder of the traditions in which the piece is essentially rooted. Chris Ackerley Photograph: John Watson (Vladimir) and Harry Love (Estragon) keep their appointment.
Published in The Beckett Circle, Autumn 2012.