A Godot worth waiting for from four of Britain's finest

What once was baffling seems all too obvious in a play, as was once famously stated, nothing happens twice.

Two vagrants meet by a bare tree and wait for a man who never arrives. A florid squire crosses the stage with a monkey-like slave for whom he hopes to gain a good price. When they return, the squire is blind, the slave dumb. By some contemporary plot standards, this constitutes a fizzing narrative. And Godot has entered the cultural consciousness to such an extent that Sir Peter Hall, who also directed the British premiere in 1955, can confidently allow it to breathe as a comedy that still appears to be breaking all the rules while giving four fine actors a field day.

His superb revival reunites Alan Howard and Ben Kingsley, two former RSC Hamlets, as Vladimir and Estragon. You'd never guess that Kingsley had been away from the stage for ten years. Howard, quite obviously, didn't leave for ten seconds. Both are curiously infected with Irish accents - an inevitable consequence, you feel, of Beckett's rhythms and phraseology. They are the king and the dustman of comedy, the reduced saint-like visionary and the cowering simpleton, one exuding a calm and tattered dignity, the other simmering with rage and foreboding. Not a vaudeville turn, nor even a pair of comic tramps, Howard and Kingsley play the abandoned suckers like resentful, disenfranchised citizens of another, more glorious world. You'd make me laugh if it wasn't prohibited, says one. We've lost our rights, mutters the other.

Denis Quilley presents a Pozzo of grandiloquent splendour, while Greg Hicks as the humiliated Lucky champs at the bit and paws the ground like a horse condemned to the knacker's yard. His famously incomprehensible ourburst is greeted with a round of applause that also recognises an astonishing feat of acting. Hicks dribbles and spews continuously for 20 minutes before speaking. This is a landmark piece of Beckettian performance in a role few fully dare and in which fewer truly succeed. Altogether, not to be missed.

Michael Coveney

Daily Mail, 28.6.97.


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