Waiting for Waiting for Godot
"Pythonesque pure silliness...an absolute blinder"
My Theatre Mates
“Laugh out loud...sharp script...killer lines...great fun"
"Sharp, witty & a joy to watch!...Will have anyone in stitches"
Official London Theatre
"A back-stage comedic flight-of-fancy"
“hugely entertaining night out – big laughs guaranteed!"
Please Mind The Blog
"fun…frivolous…wit and abundant charm ...entertaining"
“smart backstage comedy”
"fast-paced comedy...affectionate absurdist parody"
"Hanson's script shines...hilarious"
WAITING FOR WAITING FOR GODOT
Reporter: Sinead Blatch, first published Fri 02 Sep 2016 13:19
What’s it all about?
Ester and Val sit amongst boxes of socks, stuffed animals and sewing kits, rails of dusty un-used costumes and a myriad of seemingly useless props waiting, as understudies do, for their moment in the limelight.
As the hapless pair contemplate circumstances that could lead to them treading the boards – ‘A light could fall; someone could get sick or fired.’ – Ester offers Val misguided and ill-informed advice on how to improve his acting and become a successful and established artist. As time passes and multiple mishaps ensue, the two begin to question whether being on stage is really what they want after all.
Who’s in it?
The play for the most part feels like a two hander with Simon Day’s Ester and James Marlowe’s Val dominating the stage with moments of quick overlapping dialogue, lingering silences and beautiful comedic sequences that demand a certain level of physicality from the actors. These moments are broken when the audience is reminded that Ester and Val are not the only living, breathing bodies backstage at the theatre with the entrance of Assistant Stage Manager Laura, played by Laura Kirman, whose character brings a fresh contrast to the bumbling understudies.
The creative team behind the show also deserve a mention here. The writer, Dave Hanson, an American playwright, gives a fresh and new take on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, finding an interesting parallel to the original tale in the world of theatre. The show’s director Mark Bell has in recent years directed The Comedy About A Bank Robbery and The Play That Goes Wrong, and his comic touch is stamped clearly on the show.
What should I look out for?
If the audiences’ eruption of applause is anything to go by then it would have to be Laura’s of the prompt book. Laura loses her cool with Val as he insists that acting is the most difficult job in theatre. She rebuffs Val’s comments noting that “actors wear clothes that someone else made, stand where someone else tells them to whilst saying words that someone else wrote” and that really “anyone can do it.” She proves her point by turning her prompts into a faux-dramatic monologue.
Mark Bell’s ability to morph the set into a character of its own. In line with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery and The Play That Goes Wrong (although on a smaller scale), Waiting For Waiting For Godot finds its forth character in the set. There are some truly hilarious moments with an ironing board that attest to Mark’s innate comic timing.
In a nutshell?
Waiting For Waiting For Godot is sharp, witty and a joy to watch.
Will I like it?
There are in jokes aplenty for hardened theatre fans, and the peek behind the curtain at life backstage will have anyone in stiches.
Waiting for Waiting for Godot
By Dave Hanson
Review: Tom Aitken, 01 September 2016
Entertaining, and the actors draw you in.
This is an American backstage comedy about two male actors, one, Ester, elderly, the other, Val, a beginner. They are present as stand-ins in case of emergency, and spend the entire performance in the dressing room, much of it in discussion that teeters constantly on the verge of tempestuous argument, with some sense that physical violence might break out at any moment.
As you would expect, Val is idealistic about the craft of acting, while Ester has become deeply and self-protectively cynical about it. There are occasional interventions by Laura, the stage manager.
The two men are waiting for Waiting for Godot in two senses. One is that Beckett’s masterpiece is about two men awaiting the arrival of Godot, a mysterious character who never appears. The other is that both are awaiting their hoped for entry to the status of employed actors.
Val, played by James Marlowe, is quite young, and therefore is driven by optimism and a sense that, although the world he is fighting for a place in is highly competitive, it is also essentially fair, recognising and employing people like himself.
Simon Day’s Ester dominates proceedings pretty much throughout. This is the case, however, for reasons that have made him a very unhappy man. He does his best throughout to convince Val, but even more himself, that that he is an actor of huge potential, whereas only incredible ninnies actually have jobs and get paid.
When he launches into a speech, be it from Godot or some other dramatic highlight you do feel sympathy for him. But for much of the time you are aware that he is a man who simply has not been fortunate in his profession and that this has more than a little to do with his abrasive personality.
Overall an entertaining hour and a half, and there are moments towards the end when I felt quite sympathetically involved with both men.
Ester: Simon Day
Val: James Marlowe
Laura: Laura Kirman
Directed by: Mark Bell
Understudies, like stage managers, are some of the most unsung heroes in the business. Most of the time their job is to turn up, night after night, just in case. The rare days they do get to go onstage, they barely get any notice before having to step up to tread the boards. They're expected to know their lines and blocking perfectly, regardless of the fact that it might be the first time they've done the part in weeks. With all that lonely backstage time, it must be, psychologically, pretty tough. Dave Hanson's comedy throws a bit of light on a dressing room that's home to two hapless, hopeless understudies, slowly beginning to unravel.
You can probably guess the play they are understudying, and Hanson tries, clunkily, to channel it. Like Vladimir and Estragon, Ester and Val are waiting. Waiting for something to happen – illness? accident? – they aren't too sure. They are cooped up in a tiny dressing room with only each other and some musty costumes for company. It's dead time; time they while away by repeating the same stories to each other. At one point Simon Day's veteran actor Ester tries to teach the young Val (James Marlowe) a thing or two about acting, at another point they decide to curse ("Macbeth!") the show.
Paralleling the work of an understudy with the surreal, existential situation Beckett creates in Waiting for Godot is a nice idea. There are a few things - the loneliness, the paranoia, how you never know quite what's round the corner - which ring true in both the original and this new play. The plain strangeness of that job and showbusiness in general is a nice fit for Beckett's wry, oddball wit. But Hanson's comedy repeatedly misses the mark. He's attempting Beckett and failing; trying a lighter, funnier, approach, which just doesn't work. The subtlety of suggestion and the readable pauses are absent.
The performances don't help. Day is awkward as Val, regularly overplaying his part in an attempt to get laughs, which generally fall flat. Marlowe is much better, but the two of them don't make a convincing double act. Their relationship feels laboured. The rhythm changes somewhat when the assistant stage manager Laura (Laura Kirman) turns up, but she's more an opportunity to shake up the form of two people onstage, than a viable, interesting character in her own right.
Mark Bell, the man behind The Play That Goes Wrong and the other very successful Mischief Theatre comedies, directs and - surprisingly given that back catalogue - he has the pace all wrong: it's glacial. There are little glimpses of set malfunction – echoes of those previous shows. They are tantalising moments which show what could have been but generally the set is disappointingly static. You're left waiting for more things to fall off walls and more props to break. But you'll end up waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
A gentle farce enlivened by snappy exchanges and absurdist silliness, Waiting for Waiting for Godot describes the existential plight of two understudies eager for a chance to perform.
James Marlowe’s clueless newcomer Val has high hopes and irrepressible enthusiasm. At one point, he breaks into a spirited version of There’s No Business Like Show Business while dancing with a plastic flamingo.
Simon Day plays pompous luvvie Ester, armed with rumbling diction, a slew of drama school exercises and a particularly fine impression of "Marlon Brando as a Gorilla".
Between daft set pieces and meaningful pauses, they ponder their reasons for working in the theatre industry – or "the biz" as they obnoxiously refer to it.
Laura Kirman has little to do as a confrontational stage manager, storming in only in the last moments of each act. She makes the most of a dramatic reading of the fictive production’s cue sheet, though, her character’s way of proving that "anyone can act".
The set – designed by Sophia Simensky – recreates a familiar backstage room, nicely cluttered with moth-eaten costumes, forgotten props and the mandatory dismembered mannequin.
Depicting tedium on stage is always a risk, but director Mark Bell manages to keep things moving, giving his performers purpose throughout even the most protracted silence. Bell worked with both Kirman and Marlowe on the wildly successful The Play That Goes Wrong. While this show may be comparatively lacking in frenetic inventiveness, its wit and abundant charm make it an entertaining way to pass the time.
Waiting For Waiting For Godot, St James Theatre – Review
Pros: The production features a talented cast and the excellent Simon Day especially shines.
Cons: A play about actors talking about acting can be pretentious and comes dangerously close to navel gazing.
An immensely likeable version of the Samuel Beckett classic with some real laugh out loud moments.
Whilst I’ve never doubted the significance of Samuel Beckett as a playwright, I always found his work mentally bruising with its often bleak outlook on life. I was buoyed, however, as I read the pre-show literature for Waiting For Waiting For Godot: two hapless understudies spend their time backstage trying to understand art, life, theatre and their precarious existence within it. They ponder Beckett, showbiz, what life is all about and how they might be the only people who truly understand Waiting For Godot.
These details, combined with the fact that the production stars Simon Day from The Fast Show and James Marlowe and Laura Kirman from The Play That Goes Wrong reassured me that this would be a much lighter offering than the typical Beckett production.
The play explores arguably the worst role in the acting profession, that of the understudy who patiently waits in the wings, ready to cover a leading actor who falls ill, and who dreams of featuring on a paper insert in the programme that reads ‘the role of Macbeth will tonight be played by’. Simon Day and James Marlowe as Ester and Val are waiting to play Vladimir and Estragon and know their roles backwards, forwards and sideways but feel like coiled springs, contemplating a chance that might never come. Laura Kirman plays Laura, officious stage manager who makes the occasional appearance, gently winding up Ester and Val with front of house developments.
Waiting For Waiting For Godot is a 90 minute show (including an interval) which rids the production of unnecessary padding and helps to maintain a sharp script. The three strong cast are excellent but Simon Day delivers the strongest performance as Ester, who could quite easily slot into a Fast Show sketch himself and easily ranks alongside characters ‘Competitive Dad’ and ‘Dave Angel, Earth Warrior’ from The Fast Show.
The interplay between Simon Day and James Marlowe is at times inspired, but the killer lines belong to the world weary Ester rather than the naïve, idealistic Val. Whilst the script can be extremely funny, it does occasionally wander off into an exposition on what it means to be an actor. This comes across as pretentious and self-absorbed and on the whole doesn’t do much for the story. The props also felt largely superfluous, particularly the falling ironing board, and were a distraction I could have done without.
Overall, Waiting For Waiting For Godot is great fun and ultimately wins through thanks to its good cast and strong writing. Moreover, it pays tribute to the real agonies that actors regularly endure for their art. I was left wondering whether ‘break a leg’ originated with understudies: it might be their only way to get a break… geddit?!
Author: Dave Hanson
Director: Mark Bell
Producer: Libby Brodie
The show must go on. And on. Even for the understudies trapped in theatrical purgatory, forever waiting for their chance to perform. So far so Beckett? That's the premise of American playwright Dave Hanson's affectionate absurdist parody, offering a lighter take on the master's existential philosophising.
Much of the pleasure comes from the low-key double act of Simon Day's posturing veteran and James Marlowe's clueless newbie, understudies in a production of Waiting for Godot. The former attempts to school the latter in the 'Miserly' technique (repeating what the other actor says over and over again) and 'Mammay' (AKA Mamet), or the art of the swearing.
The Godot figure is the all-powerful director, who might appear at any moment to gift them their big break - if only they can remember their lines after all this time. That would certainly thrill Aunt Mary, who comes along night after night just in case her nephew finally appears on stage.
The winkingly meta gags will certainly please an industry crowd, with lines like "Acting is difficult - actors never should be", the invocation of theatrical superstitions, and the arrival of a surly, overworked ASM (Laura Kirman), who proceeds to demonstrate that anyone can act by giving a dramatic reading of lighting cues.
There's also some more universal - and occasionally profound - exploration, as the would-be actors wonder if they've sacrificed milestones like marriage and home-buying by placing their faith in a future that might never materialise. Is staying "in the moment" a dramatic necessity or a trap?
But though it aspires to Beckettian palimpsest, this mainly plays as gentle comedy, with slapstick touches like an intruding ironing board, literal pissing contest and exaggerated crisis brought on by the theft of a waistcoat. The small studio space limits the clowning, however, with just a few glimpses of director Mark Bell's (The Play That Goes Wrong) gift for organised chaos.
Day's fruity, melodious mispronunciations ("Rar-dar" for RADA - one of several UK updates) have a Steven Toast quality - if less surreal - and he gives a memorable gorilla impression morphing into Brando in Streetcar, as well as sending up the type of luvvie who solemnly declaims on the sanctity of art. Marlowe is winningly puppyish, and shows decent pipes in a rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business".
Sophia Simensky creates a convincingly cluttered backstage area, hemmed in by a clothes rail and incongruous props like a giant flamingo, and Andrew Josephs provides the tinny soundtrack of a tannoy - evoking a stage so tantalisingly close.
It's a slightly awkward playing length, particularly with an unnecessary interval, and falls somewhere between energetic, fast-paced comedy and truly thoughtful, developed drama, but if it occasionally frustrates in its seeming lack of purpose, perhaps that's only appropriate.
It's been quite a year for understudies in the West End, from Funny Girl to Sunset Boulevard – high profile cases where the show must go on and the understudy steps in to save the day at the last minute. Usually the unsung heroes of the industry, it's no surprise that there's both comedy and drama to be found in their position, but whilst Waiting for Waiting for Godot sometimes hits the mark the performances stop it from ever fully taking off.
“Acting is difficult – actors shouldn't be”. Top advice from Simon Day's pompous and somewhat delusional Ester in Dave Hanson's slight but occasionally smart backstage comedy that follows two hapless understudies as they wait behind-the-scenes to be called into the fray to star in Beckett's most famous absurdist drama. Drawing on real-life past experiences of his time in the same position, Hanson vamps on the idea that his two characters are literally waiting for Waiting for Godot, and through their boredom we discover that it's not just the audience who are baffled by the play.
The characters of Ester and Val are familiar enough to feel comfortable but stay on the right side of stock, and whilst their relationship has echoes of Laurel and Hardy they remain interesting in their own right. In a cramped room backstage at the theatre the duo contemplate their lot, with Ester offering acting advice compiled from half-read books and overheard conversations. Some of the strongest moments of the comedy come from his teaching the younger and vulnerable Val classical acting techniques, ranging from the 'Miserly' technique, a malaprop for Meisner, to the idea that RADA (which he pronounces Rarrdarr) is merely a state of mind.
The piece takes its time to find its rhythm but warms up, particularly throughout the second act, as both Simon Day and James Marlowe grow more comfortable with Hanson's quick back-and-forth dialogue. Director Mark Bell, who has a tremendous track record of squeezing out every last laugh in plays such as The Comedy About a Bank Robbery and The Play That Goes Wrong, builds up a number of routines that will no doubt settle in further into the run but right now feel a little safe. He judges the space well, and whilst I'm yet to be convinced that the St James Studio is suitable for either book musicals or plays, he eventually finds the appropriate tempo and volume to keep the piece afloat in what is fundamentally a cabaret venue.
The similarities between the two plays is certainly interesting to consider, and I found the moments of stillness and subtlety the most convincing. Whilst it's not a patch on Beckett's original, the parallels between the nature of show-business with its constant carrot and stick, passing time whilst waiting for your big break and the psychological demands that places on those in the performance industry were worthy of exploration. The third character of the stage manager (Laura Kirman) is more of a device to keep the momentum going rather than a solid addition to the drama, and whilst she helps the piece change direction she ultimately feels unnecessary.
Sophia Simensky's realistic set intentionally adds to the feeling of claustrophobia, and Ester and Val become like caged animals in a less-than-glamorous back room waiting for their star turn. Bounding around the space in a grimy set of long-johns, Simon Day doesn't always feel fully relaxed into the role, at times it's over declamatory and a touch laboured. He could do with an additional layer of authority especially when lecturing James Marlowe's soft and perfectly judged fool. As a comic duo they never quite find their spark and I found myself similarly waiting for their relationship to ignite, which like Godot, sadly never arrived.
St James Theatre, London
Guest reviewer: Franco Milazzo
If Waiting For Godot is the last word in the absurdity of the human condition, this play is its hilarious epilogue. Starring The Fast Show’s Simon Day, Dave Hanson’s Waiting For Waiting For Godot is as deep as the work it riffs off while never losing sight of its two main characters.
WFWFG revolves around two understudies, Ester (Day) and Val (James Marlowe), who spend their evenings backstage drinking coffee, writing, talking and visiting the WC. And waiting. Waiting for the director who never appears. Waiting for an agent to take them on. Waiting for that career upturn which is just around the corner.
Photo Credit Andy Tyler
At that level alone, it would be a mildly amusing parody on Samuel Beckett’s play and the life of the actors who toil in those circumstances. WFWFGcompletely transcends that level through its superlative acting, script and direction.
The latter by The Play That Goes Wrong’s Mark Bell is especially powerful in illuminating Beckett’s more theatrical motifs – especially the long, meaningful pauses – as well as some brilliant physical comedy between the pair. Bell has engendered some real chemistry between the tall, stocky and bald Day in a too-small waistcoat (looking for all the world like an English Shrek) and his younger and smaller colleague, for example when Day is trying to lay down basic tenets of their trade like “art is difficult; artists never should be”.
Now, Hanson may be a Yank but he knows how to butter an English audience. His script is packed with side-eye zingers (“You did what you did for art and personal gain. Don’t apologise – it’s the British way.”). Then there are the Monty Pythonesque diversions into pure silliness which see, amongst other things, Day do ridiculous impersonations of Marlon Brando and Sean Connery. His script offers heartfelt insights into not just the worlds of acting and the work of Beckett but the depths of desperation a person can succumb to.
As the outwardly confident, inwardly terrified Ester, Day plays an absolute blinder. Those who know him from only his appearance and TV work would suspect that his appearance here would be sheer pastrami (both beefy and hammy at the same time).
Instead, he is a revelation in this role. His verbal and delivery is superb, flipping between gratuitous swearing and pompous pontificating, all in perfectly enunciated RP, is comedy gold. Even on the St James Studio’s small stage, what he achieves with an economy of motion is little short of Chaplin-like genius.
That this original play deserves a transfer is undeniable, especially in a theatre scene currently wallowing in film-to-stage mediocrity like Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Kinky Boots and Mrs Henderson Presents. Whether it will get one is another matter and depends largely on venue owners taking a risk and looking beyond their balance sheets. As Estragon puts it, “people are bloody ignorant apes.”