On a stark white landscape dominated by a single tree, two gentlemen of the road wait.
A performance of Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece succeeds or fails on the prowess of its cast. Here, with Brian Cox and Bill Paterson aching into the boots of Vladimir and Estragon, director Mark Thomson has most certainly hit his mark.
Cox is a man-child teddy bear of a man, full of exaggerated movements of self-doubt, driven by a desperation to both please others and to justify his own existence. By contrast, Paterson is in a constant state of wearied pain, amnesiac and determined to leave his perceived empty life behind.
Yet, in moments of surprising tenderness and poignancy between the two lifelong companions, Vladimir and Estragon are unable to part. Despite the talk of hanging themselves and being better off alone, the two men are defined by each other. And, after witnessing this treat of a performance, it will be hard to imagine another pairing achieving the same strange chemistry as Cox and Paterson.
And although the duo shine, the grotesque parade of Pozzo and Lucky also sparkles, thanks to pitch-perfect performances by John Bett and Benny Young. Bett’s pompous Pozzo underscores Beckett’s social satire without being heavy-handed, and Young — though mostly silent throughout — evokes empathy and pity, even receiving a round of applause from the audience after his stream-of-nonsense soliloquy towards the end of the first act.
As an opener to the Royal Lyceum’s fiftieth anniversary season, Waiting For Godot is not only a suitably starry treat, but a first-rate example of what the theatre does best: staging unmissable top-quality performances in the very heart of Edinburgh.
Waiting For Godot runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre until 10 October. Ticket information is available on the Lyceum website.