Waiting for Godot

1 August 2010

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a regular theatre-goer. The last play I saw was Mother to Mother, based on the novel by Sindiwe Magona. Before that it was Die Diensmeisies, adapted by then matric student Fanie Fourie from the Jean Gene play.

It could be the length of most plays, or all that talking that I find utterly tiresome, but plays just don’t do it for me. Until now.

Last night I attended the opening night performance of Samuel Bekcett’s Waiting for Godot, directed by Sam Mathias at the Fugard Theatre in District Six (Harrington Street in Town, just up the road from The Assembly).

It was my first time at the Fugard and to put it simply – its gorgeous. The theatre is housed inside the Congregational Church, built in 1830, and comprises several spaces – the theatre studio, the roof top, the auditorium and foyer, which all have a distinct character. The foyer is decorated in industrial chic, with wooden floors, exposed brickwork, oil drums and Victorian gothic windows. Parts of the floor are covered in glass panels revealing the original cobble stone beneath. The place screams history. You can almost feel it.

Climbing the wooden stairs to our seats in the auditorium, we were immediately struck by a collective feeling of anticipation and scramble to find good seats. The auditorium seating is arranged in a horseshoe shape, with a section of comfortable, red fabric seats placed directly in front of the stage, and the rest arranged around it. It’s very intimate. When the lights dim there is a sound of scuffling as those in the second row all lean forward to look down on to the stage. Waiting.

A soft whisper of music starts then stops, then suddenly Ian McKellan scrambles through a hole in the stage, dressed as a hobo. Then Roger Rees appears and in his crinkled elderly eyes I recognise him as the Sheriff of Rottingham from Robin Hood, Men in Tights. From then on it’s pure magic. McKellan is like a puppeteer. Every time he says something humorous, the audience laughs. When he does a little dance shuffle across the bare wooden stage floor, the room erupts in applause. At 71 he still commands the audience. He is electric. A favourite grandparent. A superstar.

The play, originally written by Samuel Beckett in French in 1948 is absurdist. Two homeless men, Estragon and Vladimir, with nothing to live for but each other, wait for their friend Godot to come and rescue them from wretchedness. While they wait they meet the larger than life Pozzo, and his downtrodden manservant Lucky who stay for a chat and some vaudeville craziness before continuing on their way. The friends continue to wait, and it soon becomes apparent that Godot isn’t coming. The wait, it seems, is the only point to their existence.

I wish everyone could experience what I did. It feels as if I’ve seen something special, something I can keep as a story to pass on to others. “Remember that time when…”

I think the venue had much to do with it. It’s like being inside a place from another time, filed with memories and that old building smell that is so common in churches. If you haven’t seen a play at the Fugard you’re missing out. Seeing Ian McKellan perform at the Fugard is otherworldly.

McKellan and the rest of the cast will be performing the play at the OR Sports Centre in Khayelitsha for a once-off pay-what-you-can performance. This doesn’t happen every day, which is why I’m going to be there, to experience the magic all over again.

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