Thursday, 18 March 2010

Please sir, Godot asked if you could wait a little longer

Excuse me while I waffle for a moment.
Samuel Beckett was a genius.
No, I won't hear anything else.
There was a period many years ago - it was while I was still living in Tasmania, so at least 7 years ago - when Sam had an anniversary, or something, and a project was begun to film all of his plays, using Irish actors. I saw as many of those as I could, and may even have some of them on tape lying about.
He was a genius. I didn't know any of the actors, I had never seen any of the plays before, although I had read some of Waiting for Godot in a drama class, as an exercise.
But I sat, spellbound at times, as two or three or even one actors, in minimalist sets with nothing happening except perhaps the weather, transformed dialogue or monologue about nothing into the most potent, powerful drama I had ever seen.
Krapp's last tape confused me, but I simply didn't care. All I could see was that old man, bitter, listening to diary tapes he had recorded years ago, eating bananas while rain hammered on the roof, swearing at his younger, smoother voice and abusing his older self. It was a master-stroke of writing and, in that moment, a master-stroke of acting - one actor, alone, with no special effects, nobody else on set, just him and the camera, maintained some of the finest characterisation I had ever seen.
Endgame remains, of all those I saw, the one I would most like to see live. Four characters - a blind master, his servant, and his parents living in rubbish bins in the corner - created all the world that necessary.
I sat and I listened to blind Hamm abuse and berate and proclaim, and I thought it the most compelling monologue I had ever heard. At the time, as I was still doing some theatre myself, I decided that I would track down one piece of his monologue and use it for auditions. I still think it would be a powerful piece to use.
Hamm's roar of "You're on Earth, there's no cure for that!" remains with me still.
And then there is the one piece that people who know not of Becket may have yet heard of - Waiting for Godot.
Only his second play, it has famously been described as being "about nothing" but has also been voted the most important English-language play of the 20th Century.
I had considerable doubts going into it but, also, I was spellbound throughout it. I thought then, and I only think more so now, that Beckett wrote plays which not only made enormous demands of the actor, but which provided enormous opportunities, as well.
A truly great actor, in Godot or any other Beckett piece, would turn in a performance not to be exceeded. And an actor who could not manage those demands, well - we know the truth now, don't we?
So: Ian McKellen, Matthew Kelly and Roger Rees are touring in a production of Waiting for Godot, and will be in Melbourne for two weeks in May. We know people in Melbourne we need to catch up with.
To say we are excited about this would be a colossal understatement.
If I don't see any other live theatre this year, I may not care provided I get to see that.

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