Enigmatic classic holds no fear for talented amateurs; Waiting for Godot is at the People's Theatre this week. DAVID WHETSTONE looks at a play with a colourful past.
SUMMED up by one critic as "a play in which nothing happens - twice", Waiting for Godot is one of the most enigmatic works ever to grace the stage.
Samuel Beckett's drama focuses on two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for someone called Godot, who never turns up.
The play is in two acts, with the second a kind of replay of the first - hence that witty description of it by Irish critic Vivian Mercier.
There are two other characters - the mysterious Lucky and Pozzo.
In Act I, Pozzo has Lucky on the end of a rope. In Act II they return, the rope shorter but with Lucky this time guiding Pozzo.
The play, which has been subjected to much scholarly deliberation, made its first public appearance in France. Beckett failed to show up but part of his introduction was read out.
It stated: "I don't know who Godot is. I don't even know (above all don't know) if he exists. And I don't know if they believe in him or not - those two who are waiting for him."
The play opened in London in 1955. Director Peter Hall reputedly told his cast: "I haven't really the foggiest idea what some of it means - but if we stop and discuss every line we'll never open." Peter Bull, who played Pozzo, later said "waves of hostility came whirling over the footlights and the mass exodus, which was to form such a feature of the run of the piece, started quite soon after the curtain had risen".
All this preamble is by way of saying thank goodness for the People's Theatre, which gives us plays commercial common sense screams at theatre managements to avoid. That's unless you've the kind of gilt-edged cast the Theatre Royal was able to cash in on back in 2009 when the Beckett tramps were played with panache by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.
At the People's, Gordon Russell and Steve Robertson are playing Estragon and Vladimir in what the company calls an "emotive, contemplative and humorous masterpiece". Since Russell and Robertson are two of the most talented members of the company, decent audiences might be expected and, I'm prepared to bet, almost everybody, maybe even everybody, will stay to the end.
Waiting for Godot is on until Saturday. Call 0191 2655020 or see www.peoplestheatre.co.uk
Pozzo (Kevin Gibson), Estragon (Gordon Russell), Lucky (Roger Liddle) and Vladimir (Steve Robertson)