Waiting for Godot
Now I am, I admit, quite freely in many ways culturally deprived. I read a few novels and little literature in general. I barely ever go out to the theatre and only occasionally to the cinema. This evening I went to see Waiting for Godot. I was contacted by Tom as he and Kate had a spare ticket for the opening-night at the theatre in Sheffield. For starters it was lovely to go there with them. It hadn’t really crossed my mind but of course both of them know many people involved in the theatre (both being actors). But it was really enjoyable to be there entirely on the outside as I’m neither an actor nor a regular theatregoer but also completely on the inside in the company of Kate and Tom. So thank you very much for that invitation I enjoyed myself hugely.
I think I’ve probably talked about the play. I think I’ve probably seen the play even at some point although it might have been on television. But I have no memory of being affected by the play the way I was this evening. Snippets I’ve seen and the general conversation that I have affected based on no knowledge at all evidently were not the same although the way the player is talked about, its consumption by general consciousness, is not in fact particularly inaccurate. The play does lend itself to a very wide discussion of its potential meanings and a resume of play does successfully manage to communicate this I can see. However on the stage there were elements to it that really surprised me.
I went there hungry to learn something. I realise that increasingly with age I find it difficult to do things which are not in some way either productive of or consume knowledge. So therefore this particular play by the great or one of the great Western intellectuals Samuel Beckett was an opportunity even I was not stupid enough to turn down although that in itself was a close call as it’s actually surprisingly difficult for me to get myself out of my house or away from the things I’m involved with. This was so evident going into the theatre. I’m so rarely in the company of large numbers of people who might indeed be my peers. I choose to spend my time amongst people who do not have English as a first language and come from very different cultural backgrounds to my own. I feel of course that we all share a global culture whether we like it or not their presence here being evidence of that. So I feel like I’m fitting in to a very real momentum in this society. But nevertheless the theatres, or the theatre in Sheffield let’s say, is in some way a natural place for me to be. Indeed I did see two people I knew. A woman from the Quakers his name eluded me much to my embarrassment and my good friend Dave Vanderhoven and Liz his partner. Liz is of course I believe the bursar of Sheffield Hallam University. A very high status position in Sheffield. As such it was a natural place for her to be and not an un-natural place to be for this Dr of philosophy working for the council as I am.
I was reminded very strongly of going to the main church possibly a cathedral in Bratislava many years ago. I went there because I didn’t know what to do and wanted to go out and had seen an advert for a classical concert. I was staying alone somewhere in Bratislava. When I sat in the church that evening I looked around and realised that I really was in the capital of a place. Not the capital of a large country like London but in the capital of a provincial place. Or perhaps more accurately in a provincial capital. The great and the good of Bratislava appeared to be present in that space. As was the mayor, local members of Parliament, dignitaries, people with important financial positions within the city or cultural positions. It was very much a large village atmosphere. My experience was the same on the other two evening visits I’ve made to the Sheffield Theatres as well. It wasn’t the case when I went to see Ken Dodd at the Lyceum though! That was a very different audience. But normal evening events at the Sheffield theatre (its name even eludes me I go there so little) is an evening with the cultural elite of city.
My friend Tom was immediately open in disparaging Sheffield Theatres. In conversation with him and with Kate later on they both voiced frustration at the London centric approach to organising theatre in the city. I immediately realised that in the ten years I’ve been active in community politics, activism, within my area and further afield I have never once come across an activity by the Sheffield Theatres which touches anyone other than that particular cultural elite (and perhaps their children at the sort of lunchtime classical concerts they organise with lions and tigers for children).
The play however is the thing. As they say. I found it intensely comprehensible. I enjoyed it as if it had a really clear plot from beginning to end. It is a brilliant piece of theatre. Brilliantly written by a very clever mind. A very insightful mind. I was shaken by the extent to which I identified with Pozzo. How I experienced the character was that he held Lucky by a rope around his neck. Lucky was poor and was his slave. Pozzo was a man (in this production I don’t know for others) with an educated voice and a broad vocabulary. I understood him to be me. Lucky was the “Lucky People” to quote a famous book title on the Roma. Lucky was the Roma. Lucky was also other impoverished people of course. But right now and very poignantly following on from the day I spent with Roma families he was the Roma. He was poor. He was kept on a chain. I understood myself to be keeping poor people on a chain. Holding them to me. Wanting to keep them near. I could give them their freedom and I could give them or rather share with them all my wealth and my food to bring them out of that poverty and to bring myself down to their level. But I don’t. Like him I fear death. Like him I know that it’s just awaiting the death to come. And out of the fear of death coming I avoid taking that decision to give away my worldly wealth. It’s not a straightforward thing I’m writing. I don’t think it’s the explanation of that particular element of the play but it really did shock me. I saw Pozzo as holding Lucky, me as holding the Roma on a chain. Is me holding them back by the not giving up of myself. It was actually quite shocking. It managed to shock me. That particular understanding dissolved at a certain point. Certainly the dancing can relate to my idea of “Lucky people”. But also as Lucky began to display some sort of agency. To dance. The dance being caught in the net. And then to think with his thinking hat on. At that point I started to see Lucky as an element of me rather than the something outside me. But in fact that psychoanalytical projection fails and I prefer to rest with the notion of Lucky as actually something separate from Pozzo. I think the notion of the lucky people is very relevant to the play and to me. But is a wonderful piece of writing.
It’s astounding to think how the words that are written by the author, the actors acting them out and the audience the multiple audiences can all have a meaning that they apply to the words. That’s the beauty of such great writing is that it allows so many imprints upon it without it losing coherence. The actors did a very good job in managing to convey language and keep it open.
They are clearly waiting for God, particularly in the second half. In the first half focused very much on Pozzo’s avoidance of death I felt that Godot was death. In the second half however it was more clearly God. If they didn’t wait for him he’d punish them. But it’s an endless wait of course that can only be finalised in death. Though they think they’ll hang themselves but they never do. Because they’re waiting. Anyway I enjoyed myself.