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Waiting for Godot, the Silence

by on 1 April 2020

No Squeak in the Nub

Waiting for Godot, the Silence

Nocturnal Productions at the Passin Theatre until 1st April

Review by Avril Sunisa

How could one have imagined, when reviewing Nocturnal Productions’ annual outing this time last year, the extent that the whole world would have changed in a few brief weeks leading up to the company’s unveiling of its Waiting for Godot, the Musical.

Last year’s premiere of Waiting for Dawn, Nocturnal Productions inaugural masterpiece of hypo-minimalistic theatre, left the audience gasping with vacancy. On that memorable occasion, finding myself part of this specially invited audience at the ephemeral non-venue specific nocturnal production, I was utterly transfixed. The forgone feeling at the end of a night filled with anticipation left me hungry to see what Nocturnal Productions’ 2020 offering would lack.

Alas; the social distancing rules, which have brought down an early curtain on the theatre season everywhere, have meant that Waiting for Godot, the Musical has not been able to be created in its all its intended postposterogenus glory.

WaitingMoon2However, fortunately for the aficionado, the theatrical conceit on which Nocturnal Productions whole philosophy is built, lends itself, in all its scarcity, to social distancing. The tenet behind the company’s genius is that the performance should not take place in a fixed acting space, be uncluttered by the physical encumbrances of traditional theatre, and that it should take place before sunrise, as its magic evaporates at noon.

Since so much rehearsal for the musical had taken place, it had been decided that a cut-down version would be presented, Waiting for Godot, the Silence.

It would be an act of lese-majesty to reveal the exact location of the Passin Theatre, which was only posted to me during the late evening of March’s closing day, hours before the production went up. In fact, it would not be possible, for the set, such as it wasn’t, was not static, moving like a land yacht in the night’s gentle breeze. This is of course entirely in line with Beckett’s description of the setting as “the idea of the lieu vague, a location which should not be particularised”.

WaitingMoon2Just after midnight, the clouds parted just slightly enough for the crescent moon, waxing towards its first quarter, to almost light the inspired set of designer Boreas Pagoma. One of the new wave of eco-designers who aim to lower the carbon footprint of their creations, Pagoma’s particular skills were obvious in this respect, as he took the ethos of hypo-minimalism to its ultimate conclusion. Returning again this year was Scandinavian lighting designer, Elifrop Pots, whose paraperceptible lighting plots are reputedly inspired by the winter skies of his North Cape home. Another designer celebrated for his energy-saving approach, Pots made full use of his favourite colour, ultra-ultraviolet in his deconstructive lighting design.

Nocturnal Productions, a company renowned for its green credentials, would of course be expected to have a heightened sense of social responsibility in these testing times. To enable social distancing, the audience was kept to a minimum and, in line with government advice, to less than two. From a theatre critic’s point of view, not having the distracting barometer of audience reaction was, I found, refreshingly liberating.

In those moments before the performance opened, I was able to appreciate the skyscape on this just below freezing spring night. I was grateful for the advice of the local council to those currently self-isolating … to count clouds. (I quote, “Clouds can be seen from the garden or through a window. Look for different shapes and patterns and notice how they change over time.”)

Such is the anticipatory frisson just before curtain up on such a landmark piece, the epitome of the mould-breaking perception of hypo-minimalistic theatre. I almost underdosed on adrenaline.

Beckett’s play, voted the “most significant English language play of the 20th century”, was called En attendant Godot at its premiere early in 1953 … in French …. in Paris.  Such is the sine qua non enigma of this work, which Nocturnal Productions exploited in burrowing detail.

Director Nemo Knightman has distilled the very quintessence of Beckett’s work in reducing the number of characters. Stripping out the irrelevancies of Estragon, Lucky, Pozzo and The Boy concentrates the dearth of action into one character, Vladimir, Beckett’s “an ineffective man of the world”. This is of course a brilliant condensation of plot and plot-makers, getting to the nub, nay the squeak in the nub, of the play’s transparent message, and thinning its transparency.

Moreover, director and producers have had proper perception of the propriety of social distancing, by this astute presentation of the work. Audience and cast were never closer than two metres, or six foot six in human terms, both of us maintaining ten times that distance for good measure (not the poor measure of those, deprived of a tape-measure, who have erroneously been putting around that 2m = 6 feet). This aurally extending approach, or rather absence of approach, is truly homeopathic.

Enter past master of the thespian art, Cyrus Bender as the hapless Vladimir. Speechless with admiration of his art, we await, our breath held in anticipation, and Bender, true to form responds likewise. What can we say? Or he? This was minimalism taken to new heights, stratospherically depleted.

Bearing in mind that Waiting for Godot, the Silence was originally intended as Waiting for Godot, the Musical , how much true to intent is it to dispense with extraneous music and all that goes with it (musicians for instance, huffing in the woodwind, slobbering in the brass, and scratching at the catgut). Besides, Bender has long since been capable of dance, having suffered a strangulated splitch some years ago. And the singing, initially intended as Sprechgesang, has been relieved of both Sprache and Gesang, much to the enhancement of the purity of the work and the post-penultimate expression in its title.

In the production’s tenebrous setting, the body language of this consummated actor underlined the sheer microscopy of the character’s impetus: Bender more than inhabits the vitiated psyche of Vladimir, a man of magnanimous immobility, while the scale of Bender’s stage presence remains staggering in its imperceptibility. Priceless is a word that percolates up into this reviewer’s mind. There is no vocabulary sufficient to express such a performance.

Right from the very beginning of this portrayal of impotent paucity, the pregnant pause that heralded more, one was wishing it would go on. And indeed it certainly did. We waited hungry for those immortal words that open Act Two, “well, that passed an hour or two … … well, they would have passed anyway”.

Here is an incomparable piece of theatre that will lodge its microtudinous moments in my memory. The phrase, “I have never seen anything like it”, seems overworked. For this reviewer, Waiting for Godot, the Silence is incomparable. The words “like it” are superfluous.

For a production that does what it says on the tin, this musicale manqué delivers. Silence says it all … loudly.

Naturally, one of the advantages of hypo-minimalistic theatre is that it weighs lightly on the soul. Making my way back from this fugitive theatre in the dawning rays, as April came creeping in on the lassitude of this pestilent world, I returned to self-isolation, knowing that from Waiting for Godot, the Silence I took nothing away … but one thing … if only I could remember what it was.

Avril Sunisa
April 2020

Photography by Lisa Erin Brown

From → Drama, Musicals

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