Jeanette Hoile introduces Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett
Waiting for Godot was last performed at SLT in 1974 and 1992, the latter of which you were involved in as a production assistant. What inspired you to direct this production today?
Although involved in many aspects of the 1992 production, I took no part in directorial decisions or directing at the time, and only became interested in this much later. Recently, I decided to revisit the play as I enjoy Beckett’s work so much.
Beckett is one of my favourite authors and this is the third Beckett play that I’ve directed. My debut was in 2007, with Come and Go, followed in 2008, by Endgame, which I feel is a companion piece to Waiting for Godot, although the latter was written first. I know that Beckett is like marmite to some people – they either love or hate him – but he makes perfect sense to me! I enjoy exploring all the many aspects of the situations and characters he creates, and discovering the background to each play. There is always more to be revealed.
Tell us a bit about the characters we’ll meet and the themes that are explored.
Estragon and Vladimir have been together for a long time, and often behave like an old married couple, as they know each other so well. This does not stop them bickering, but they always make up, as they need to be together, and do enjoy each other’s company. Estragon is the more pragmatic of the two, while Vladimir is definitely the philosopher, albeit an anxious one at times. They indulge in music hall routines and surreal banter for amusement. While often described as tramps, they also behave as clowns.
Pozzo is an arrogant, narcissistic and bullying landowner, who continually mistreats his servant, Lucky. They arrive on the scene and provide company and entertainment for Estragon and Vladimir. A mysterious boy arrives later, bringing an important message. This sequence is repeated in Act Two, but not in the expected way.
Beckett often references the music hall and circus, with Pozzo delivering pompous monologues and behaving like a ringmaster, complete with whip. Meanwhile, Estragon and Vladimir provide echoes of famous double acts, from Laurel and Hardy to Morecambe and Wise, with the straight man complementing the comedian, and slapstick antics abounding. Beckett insisted on the wearing of bowler hats in the play, as one of his first influences was Charlie Chaplin, the “sad clown”.
What has made Waiting For Godot so Timeless?
The play is considered a tragicomedy, in the Absurdist tradition. It contains much humour, as well as sadness, simultaneously encouraging us to reflect on and consider every aspect of our lives, while challenging us to face our own mortality.
It does not flinch from dealing with the most important issues which we all encounter – facing death and what it means, while learning to enjoy and make the most of every minute of life. Meanwhile it distracts us with engaging interludes to pass the time, knowingly using theatrical references as it breaks the “fourth wall”, while simultaneously introducing the audience to the surreal nature of Beckett’s world.
There can be no other play more suited to address and reflect these pandemic times that we have all experienced. We’ve all been waiting for so many things – for human contact when it’s been denied – and longing to return to whatever we are now calling the new “normality!
What would you tell new audience members who have no experience with this play and what do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
I would ask new audiences to come with an open mind and not to worry about analysing it as you watch. Enjoy meeting the characters and how they interact with each other as the situations change – or stay the same! It can be enjoyed on so many levels from the light hearted to the profound.
The play will resonate more now, than for many years, because of our communal experiences of lockdown. Light hearted, silly, interludes are interspersed with more serious deliberations, but all of it will engage you – if you let it. If you are fortunate, you’ll discover that you’ve joined the millions of Beckett’s admirers world wide. If you are not, try seeing another of his plays to discover a different route into his surreal world.
Funny, poetic and positive, the play shows the resilience of humanity. Our production of Waiting for Godot provides a richly entertaining and thought provoking evening for everyone. Do join us!
Waiting For Godot runs October 12-16, 2021