Waiting For Godot With Ian McKellen…Absurdist Theatre At Its Best.

Dear Audy,

Wow, it’s hard to believe that the past week has gone by and that it was really a week long! Parts of last weekend feel like they were hours ago, other parts, decades. I’m not surprised that I am even conflicted about how long I perceived the days to pass, anxiety has been running me ragged lately. Thank you so much for the comments on my last post, I shall muster up some replies as my energy returns!

I did do something superbly marvelous last weekend. My prince and I headed into town, collected our central, third row tickets and saw Ian McKellen performing in Waiting For Godot at The Comedy Theatre.


I must pause and give them props for merchandising. I have never before seen a merchandise stall selling prints of paintings of the actors in character. Autographed prints, no less. It took me about three seconds to decide that yes, I would be taking home Gandalf’s signature. Had I been rich, I would have bought the set of characters, I liked the play that much!

20100523 Waiting For Godot Print

I had heard a little about Waiting For Godot (a Samuel Beckett play) during my brief foray into theatre studies, however, I had never read it nor seen it performed. I loved it. I feel privileged to have had my first experience with a text that I will, no doubt, revisit to ponder over in the future, performed by such masters of the acting craft.

Waiting For Godot is an abstractly existentialist play. It belongs amongst a movement that took place around the 1940s and 1950s that has been termed the Theatre of the Absurd. I have had a penchant for absurdist theatre since I first saw a production of The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco as a high school student. Years later, I directed a production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros through the Monash Student Theatre and of all the creative adventures I have taken, I must say, directing the play was the most rewarding. You can see pics from my production here. Exploring the text with some amazing actors through workshopping and discussion helped to reveal its ingeniously woven ambiguities and we were able to bring these out in the staging of the piece. Rhinoceros makes huge comments on the restrictions placed on people in society and the suppression of many aspects of our true natures, it also serves to highlight mankind’s lemming-like propensity to do things simply because others are, even if it means losing one’s own identity. My favourite thing about absurdist theatre is that it is like a painting, it can be seen from many angles and interpreted in different ways.

In Waiting For Godot, two old tramps, Vladimir and Estragon are filling their time as they wait for the mysterious and never to arrive, Godot. Their conversations leads the audience to believe that they were once successful men and are now down and out, with nothing left to do but wait. Vladimir (played by Roger Rees in the Melbourne production) is the seemingly brighter of the two, he is passionate that Godot will arrive soon and that if he doesn’t, they will simply return the next day and continue to wait until he does. Estragon (played by Ian McKellen) is far less passionate, in fact, he struggles constantly to remember why they are there, why they are waiting and repeatedly tries to leave, much to the frustration of Vladimir who must constantly remind him that they are waiting for Godot.

The most obvious interpretation of this play, and the way that I viewed it, is that ‘Godot’ in fact represents God and the characters each play a part in a commentary on religion and mankind’s perpetual efforts to uncover why we are here. Vladimir is the faithful, he doesn’t know who Godot is anymore than Estragon does, but he’s convinced that he must wait and nothing will sway his conviction. Whilst it seemed to take a while for him to settle into the part, Rees portrayed this character rather well, giving the audience a rich combination of eagerness, desperation and suppressed despair. Estragon could be seen to represent the common man, the flock, so to say. He cannot remember what day it is or whether they were there yesterday and is only waiting for Godot because Vladimir has told him that’s what they must do. McKellen was outstanding. I have seen very few performances that would even come close to what he gave. He rose a notch above the rest of the cast, despite the high calibre of performers in the other roles. Estragon seemed to be simultaneously an old man, suffering dementia and nearing the end of his life and also a young child, filled with wonderment at everything, innocently questioning the obvious and worrying mostly about his immediate needs such as hunger and the pain in his feet.

The other two characters who appear in the play are Pozzo, a large, pompous and self important man who is leading another man, Lucky, by a lead from his neck. In keeping with the religious interpretation of the text, Pozzo appeared to be a kind of false god, perhaps he elevated himself to that status, perhaps others did it for him. In any case, he was quite certain he was more valuable than other men. The man on the lead, Lucky, seemed to be a representation of the people following a false god. I found his character fascinating.

Lucky is burdened by Pozzo’s luggage and stands holding it, rather than setting it down as his master/friend (it is not stated) converses with the two tramps. In one scene, Estragon is repeatedly questioning why Lucky doesn’t set the bags down, why he doesn’t talk and just stands staring, at one point he gets too close and Lucky lashes out like a chained animal, kicking Estragon in the shin. Pozzo claims that Lucky holds the bags because he wants to, simply that, nothing more, nothing less. He then asserts his power by commanding Lucky to put the bags down and dance for their entertainment, which the silent underling does without complaint or enjoyment. Next, Pozzo tells Lucky to ‘think’. I found this incredibly fascinating. On command, Lucky puts down the heavy burdens that he chooses to carry and begins to think out loud. His thoughts pile on top of one another, circling in nonsense until the man becomes visibly distressed and distraught by the pressure of thought and with permission from Pozzo, he returns to his stoicism and burdens (the bags).

I thought this gave a rather clever example of how thoughts cause anxiety and seem to be ever so important to the thinkee, but are really just zaps of energy zipping between synapses. Rather than battle with these thoughts, or, more importantly, accept their unimportance, Lucky chooses to busy himself with his burdens. To me, this seemed to show the way in which people fill their lives with activities and often put themselves through excessive stress because they feel that what they are doing is of great importance, even if it doesn’t make them happy. Lucky was happy to serve Pozzo, happy to reinforce the larger man’s delusions of grandeur because it was easier than thinking his own thoughts. Plenty of people do this, whether they care to acknowledge it or not, be it following religious leaders or the trends of the latest Hollywood starlets.

In the program, Simon Callow has written that “The play has been haunted by a remark by one of the play’s first admirers: ‘In Waiting For Godot, nothing happens, twice.’” This is both true and untrue, in terms of story it is accurate, nothing much happens at all. However in terms of character exploration, theme and symbolism, an awful lot happens. I have found my thoughts returning to the play all week, remembering spectacular moments in the performances and also pondering the thoughts behind the text. A week’s worth of consideration? I don’t think I could ask much more of a theatrical production.

On a personal note, it has taken me two weeks to recover from a filling and during that time I misplaced my prescription for amantadine, thought it wouldn’t be too bad as I’m not so sure it’s helping anymore, subsequently went nuts, couldn’t sleep and had a couple of days of anxiety attacks…finally ending with my prince and I searching the house like crazy until we found the prescription in the ‘safe place that I wouldn’t forget’. I’ve been able to sleep and a one on one Feldenkrais session on Friday helped to relieve a lot of my tension, but I am still battling with anxious thoughts that want to bounce around my brain until they make no sense at all. I guess you can see why I related so much to Lucky…

I have about a gazillion appointments this week, in fact, Monday is the only day that I am not seeing a doctor or practitioner of some sort. Raise your glasses and let us toast to a productively busy week ahead…because my goodness, I have had quite enough of fretting about it. I feel calmer today than yesterday, which was calmer than the day before, so I can pretty safely assume the increase in anxiety was largely med related, however it’s still taking me a lot of effort to calm down this twitchy body! Effort that is well vested, anxiety does nobody any good at all.

Love & Theatrical Marvels,

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  • 5 thoughts on “Waiting For Godot With Ian McKellen…Absurdist Theatre At Its Best.

    1. Della

      Wow! How well I can relate to the anxiety issues! Fortunately now that I’m back on Gabapentin, my anxiety has been much less, though still an issue. I’m not quite so prone to wishing for it all to be over, at lease.
      Yay for calm and mellow feelings!! :)

      1. admin Post author

        I’m glad to hear the gabapentin is helping your anxiety! I was on that for years, it seemed to help at the start but after so long it was just zonking me out too much. I felt better coming off it. Now I take Lyrica and that seems to keep the burning down :)

    2. Matthew Smith

      Caf, I don’t know if you’ve kept in touch with Ricky B since I put the two of you in touch, but I thought you’d like to read this latest post of hers …

      Keep in mind, she’s been bedridden for most of the last 15 years or so.

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