Hope deferred – a review of Waiting for Godot

Final production in Beckett Fest at The Theatre on King in Peterborough runs from May 18 to 21

Kate Story as Estragon and Dan Smith as Vladimir are "Waiting for Godot" in The Theatre on King's production of Samuel Beckett's most well-known play (photo: Andy Carroll)
Kate Story as Estragon and Dan Smith as Vladimir are Waiting for Godot in The Theatre on King's production of Samuel Beckett's most well-known play (photo: Andy Carroll)

The strange and surreal journey lovingly known as Beckett Fest comes to an end this weekend with The Theatre on King’s (TTOK) production of Waiting for Godot. The final show in a two-month showcase of the works of playwright Samuel Beckett, TTOK has definitely left the best for last.

Directed by Ryan Kerr, Waiting for Godot features a cast of some of Peterborough’s most respected performers in Beckett’s most celebrated production.

After being workshopped extensively in 1952, the full version of Waiting for Godot made its debut in Paris in January 1953. It quickly became hailed as one of the most important theatrical productions of the 20th century as scholars, performers, and critics relentlessly picked apart the text and symbolism in an attempt to decipher the meaning of the show.

As Ryan explains, “trying to make sense of Godot is the reason that it’s performed again and again.”

Waiting for Godot centers around two friends, Vladimir (Dan Smith) and Estragon (Kate Story), who wait at a dead tree beside a lonely road for a mysterious man named Godot. As Vladimir and Estragon keep watch at the dead tree, they seem to be in their own sort of purgatory.

On the first night the pair encounters the rich and flamboyant Pozzo (Ryan Kerr) and his slave Lucky (Brad Brackenridge), who are on their way to the market where Pozzo claims he will sell his slave. Outraged by the way that Pozzo is treating Lucky, Vladimir and Estragon engage with the men — creating a commentary about class and human dignity. However, not all is at it seems and perhaps there is more to Pozzo and Lucky’s relationship than anyone will ever understand.

Ryan Kerr as Pozzo, Dan Smith as Vladimir, Brad Brackenridge as Lucky, and Kate Story as Estragon (photo: Andy Carroll)
Ryan Kerr as Pozzo, Dan Smith as Vladimir, Brad Brackenridge as Lucky, and Kate Story as Estragon (photo: Andy Carroll)
As Vladimir and Estragon continue their vigil, they encounter Pozzo and Lucky once again, to find out that their fortune has changed greatly. Meanwhile, a mysterious messenger boy (Sam Weatherdon) visits Vladimir and Estragon delivering messages from Godot.

As the men continue to wait for Godot, they banter about a series of topics ranging from religion, vegetables, shoes, suicide, and the human condition.

Over the years, Waiting for Godot has been the subject of discussion of scholars and theatre experts who have written essays and have held comprehensive discussions trying to decipher the cryptic meaning of the script. There are so many questions to be asked — and all of them go unanswered.

Who are Vladimir and Estragon and why are they waiting for Godot? What happened to Pozzo and Lucky at the fair? Is the boy real or an illusion? Who is Godot, and will he ever come? There are clues throughout the show, but everything is open to personal interpretation — which is a part of the appeal.

After working through Beckett Fest, I have come to know what to expect from Beckett, but I’m not arrogant enough to even begin to try to understand what Waiting for Godot means. However, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the performance and recognizing the strength of TTOK’s production.

Kate Story and Dan Smith are terrific together and make a strong pairing as Vladimir and Estragon. The two characters seem to be written in the tradition of classic comedic partnerships, like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. Vladimir is the serious straight man, while Estragon is the daft fool.

What’s striking about the pair is the true camaraderie and love between them. As most of the relationships in Beckett’s plays are abusive and destructive, it’s unusual to see two characters that actually cherish each other’s companionship. Kate and Dan play off each other beautifully with words and physical comedy, finding a natural connection that helps carry the audience through the show.

In Pozzo, Ryan Kerr becomes a symbol of flamboyant arrogance and creates an allegory for class difference. The most despicable character in the show, Pozzo is more concerned with hearing the sound of his own voice than acknowledging that Vladimir and Estragon are even there. In fact, he often doesn’t hear what they are saying. Pozzo is the type of character one expects in a Beckett play, and Ryan gives a spirited performance as the show’s main antagonist.

Meanwhile, Brad Breckinridge is the perfect Lucky. Staying silent for the majority of his role, Brad can do so much with facial expressions and body language. As Pozzo’s enslaved and abused manservant, Lucky is a character stripped of all dignity to the point of barely being human. So many questions revolve around who Lucky is and how he got in this situation. When we finally hear Lucky speak, we just see how great Brad is at playing “crazy.” I always enjoy watching Brad on stage, and once again he delivers.

Kate Story as Estragon and Dan Smith as Vladimir with Sam Weatherdon as "the boy" (photo: Andy Carroll)
Kate Story as Estragon and Dan Smith as Vladimir with Sam Weatherdon as “the boy” (photo: Andy Carroll)

I want to give a special shout out to Sam Weatherdon in her TTOK debut in the role of “the boy”. Having met Sam in the Peterborough Theatre Guild’s production of The Snow Queen and seeing her last summer in 4th Line Theater’s Gimme That Prime Time Religion, I was pleased to see her doing some classic theatre amongst some of Peterborough’s finest performers. Sam is one of my favorite young actors in Peterborough, and I really hope that this is the first of more productions we’ll see her in at TTOK.

Although many questions remain unanswered in Waiting for Godot and everything is up for personal interpretation, what makes it so unique and enjoyable is just how funny the play is. While many of Beckett’s shows have moments of comedy, Waiting for Godot has humorous word play, physical comedy, and inside jokes. It is the most whimsical of the plays featured in Beckett Fest and the most endearing, possibly because Vladimir and Estragon are the most likeable of Beckett’s characters.

Ryan Kerr has brought together a fantastic cast of local theatre favourites to mount Beckett’s most famous play. It’s a perfect way to bring to a close an intense two months of Beckett productions. Beckett Fest has been a success, and a journey that will stick in my mind for months to come. I won’t say that I understood it, but I know that I’ll continue to be thinking about it.

Waiting for Godot runs from May 18th to 21st at the TTOK. Performances begin at 8 p.m., and tickets are $15 at the door (or pay what you can on opening night).