The Irish are fond of referring to comic banter as the craic or crack. Director Mark Bell wrote in the programme for Waiting for Waiting for Godot that it was ‘a very very funny script’, so one might expect the parody of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 play, written by Dave Hanson, to be a bit of a crack and on that front at least, it didn’t disappoint.
Unfortunately the crack was in fact Simon Day’s ill-covered posterior, causing many in the audience to avert their gaze as his Calvin Klein branded underwear failed to grip on the numerous occasions that he was required to bend over. This, combined with his attempts to fasten a waistcoat that could clearly have been buttoned-up but for the purposes of the play was too small, told us all we needed to about the quality of the production.
The play is part parody, part pantomime, set in the dressing room of an unknown theatre where on stage somewhere there are two actors performing Waiting for Godot, while off stage two understudies wait for the Director to give them their big break. At one point I was certain that they couldn’t be real understudies because they were clearly hopeless and what sort of production could afford to employ two inexperienced understudies? However, that theory was blown with the appearance of the ‘ASM’ (assistant stage manager) who confirmed the validity of their presence. (Although I didn’t understand why, if she came into the dressing room to look for the smaller waistcoat that Day had mistakenly taken, why she left without it?)
Simon Day and James Marlowe played the understudies but neither actor seemed comfortable or confident with their own performance, they were both rushing their lines, Day had to try several times to remember his, and sat in the audience you quickly felt that neither person was enjoying their role. Day was portraying a well spoken, slightly pompous old-school actor who perhaps enjoyed fleeting success in amateur dramatics but has obviously not been taken seriously by the profession. Likewise the younger Marlowe is full of the ambition of youth spurred on by his aunt, who we learn, dutifully attends every performance in the hope that her nephew will one day be given the opportunity he deserves. Why exactly would a theatre company employ these two, even as understudies?
The Studio Theatre at the St James was two thirds full on the first Saturday matinee but laughs were few and far between. Mark Bell writes in the programme ‘It works as a human drama, a clown show and a sly dig at those actors who take themselves seriously but not their work.’ I think to work as a human drama we have to care about the characters we are watching and I didn’t. Maybe it was the performance but there wasn’t really anything human about them, yes they were clowns but that’s why it felt like pantomime.
Day’s character came across as someone who didn’t have the first idea about acting, far from taking himself too seriously he seemed petrified at the idea of going on the stage. Such characters described by Bell would surely relish the opportunity of being in front of the audience and their own ego would carry them through, however badly they performed. The anxious portrayal given by Day had none of that self confidence. Marlowe’s portrayal was very similar to Day’s; well spoken, anxious, hopeful but lacking in experience. The younger character had no respect for the older actor and so the two performances moved along in the same gear.
Unlike Waiting for Godot there was a conclusion. The dutiful aunt died in the audience while waiting for her nephew to take to the stage and that provided the opportunity both men had been waiting for; although we also learned that the audience was leaving out of respect for the deceased and so it’s possible that they were going off to perform in front of the dead aunt.
It may get better after a few more performances but I can’t see this production getting the same response that has received previously in America and Canada.