Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh during Godot rehearsals Photo: Lisa Tomasetti/STC website
Sydney Theatre Company’s new production of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, starring Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Philip Quast and Luke Mullins, has officially opened after a week of previews. The initial reviews, both from critics and theatregoers, have been almost unanimously rapturous, which must please everyone involved after the trials of the rehearsal period (including now now-famous no-show of original director Tamas Ascher.) I’ll include print versions of the two high-profile newspaper reviews (from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian) but you should also check out the digital links too. I’ll include Lisa Tomasetti’s photos from both of those reviews as well, and quotes from some theatre blog reviews.
These two papers almost never agree with one another particularly regarding heralded productions of famous plays with big names attached. So their near-unanimity is impressive. I disagree with the SMH critic’s interpretation of some aspects of the Ian McKellen version of the play, though the NYC incarnation might have substantial changes from the 2010 Sydney Opera House staging. (For one thing, Patrick Stewart wasn’t available for the earlier version…) Also, Vladimir does have a lot of lascivious lines in the first act, but I’d hardly call him “deviant” unless Upton and Weaving have really altered the staging from most versions (something I doubt based on photos, other reviews and the actors’ own comments.)
Nor have I ever interpreted the characters as “old vaudevillians”; some stagings highlight the comic aspects of the characters’ predicaments, but the best versions combine comedy and pathos– sometimes from one moment to the next. It would be lovely indeed to one day have the opportunity to compare this production to the current Broadway version. The reviews make them sound somewhat similar, though Weaving and Roxburgh are substantially younger than McKellen and Stewart, thus must have had to have formed a creative take on Didi and Gogo’s physical an mental maladies, which are symptoms of advanced age in the reading and in traditional productions.
Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
Other Reviews (click on the links for full versions at sites of origin):
Whitney Fitzsimmons, Stage Whispers: “Pairing Hugo Weaving (Vladamir) and Richard Roxburgh (Estragon) in the lead roles appears to be an obvious choice, but credit must be given to Tamas Ascher who recognised during rehearsals for Uncle Vanya the glorious potential of casting these two. But it must also be said that Ascher’s unavailability to direct the show due to injury could be thought of as a blessing in disguise. It is in taking on this unexpected task that Andrew Upton really shows what he’s made of as a director. There’s no doubt that with such a skillful cast his job could be perceived to be easier but the challenge here is to be able to elicit excellent performances while not allowing them to become self-indulgent. It’s a delicate balance and one that Upton achieves…
As for the bromance between Weaving and Roxburgh it is absolutely infectious. These two men are so in love with each other (in a platonic way) and they are having so much fun that it’s impossible to resist being swept away with them on a rollicking ride of impeccably timed comedy….
This production of Waiting For Godot is not only extraordinary theatre, but it’s a sublime rendering of an absurdist classic, even Samuel Beckett – who was a notoriously tough nut – would be sitting up in his grave applauding.”
CJ: Love the review, but I’d implore all reviewers of this production and the Two Plays In Rep (McKellen/Stewart) version to PLEASE stop using the word “bromance” as if male friendship between these characters and actors must now be treated with a a glib, trendoid jokeyness.
L to R: Weaving, Philip Quast, Roxburgh, Luke Mullins Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
Alison Veness-McGourty, 10 Magazine: “Funny funny charming -love this production of Waiting for Godot directed by Andrew Upton that opened last night at the Sydney Theatre Company. Flowers to Hugo Weaving for playing his Didi – or Vladimir so brilliantly that we laughed and remembered Basil Fawlty and Victor Meldrew all at once. He almost upstaged everyone else including Richard Roxburgh in the role of Gogo (Estragon). Love love Philip Quast as Pozzo so wrong he’s so right – his walk, his demeanour. And then of course the brown-ness of the Alice Babidge costumes and the greyness of the Zsolt Khell set design. The Sydney Theatre Company is on fire with Andrew Upton – his team too is just brilliant. Standing ovation all round. We waited with them, what are they waiting for… go along and find out.”
L to R: Weaving, Mullins, Quast, Roxburgh Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
Diana Simmonds, Stage Noise: “While Ascher’s associate Anna Lengyel has been in Sydney for the duration, it’s hard to believe that this is not Upton’s production in the truest sense as the wit, humour, fluid action and ensemble playing reek of the director’s presence. Waiting For Godot was worth the wait and the various hiccups along the way: it’s a superb realisation of Samuel Beckett’s play of the 20th century…
[T]the opening moments are as light as can be leaving space and depth for the weight of sadness that must follow. Richard Roxburgh’s Gogo wrestles with his boot while Hugo Weaving’s Didi capers expectantly, hoping to spot Godot’s approach. It’s subtle and lovely clowning without a hint of self consciousness or effort. And the two continue in this way, acutely aware of the least obvious way of achieving their ends, spectacularly fluent with the text and each other…
All in all, in this most famous of plays where everything and nothing is discussed, forgotten and remembered and Godot never turns up, it’s a remarkable privilege to see it as if newly written and performed for the first time. It’s still as meaningful and meaningless as it was in its first production 60 years ago and as open to interpretation. In the age of ageing, with dementia popping up around every corner to frighten half the audience to death, it’s tempting to read into it that particular existential horror. Whatever one chooses to see, however, the fact is there is laughter and humanity at every turn – the darkness being lit by simple acts of hope and kindness. And there are three leaves on the hitherto dead tree.”
Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
Suzy Wrong, Suzy Goes See: “Andrew Upton was brought in last minute to direct Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Waiting For Godot. The original director had taken ill, so the company’s artistic director steps up to the challenge, and, like a blessing in disguise, presents to us a skilfully crafted rendition of Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece. The script’s absurdist nature, along with its surreal elements are retained, but the work lays emphasis on psychological validity, which allows for a more accessible reading and indeed, a very entertaining night at the theatre. Upton’s interpretation of Beckett’s words encourages his audience to reflect upon existentialist themes, such as death, memory, isolation, time, and of course, life itself. One would argue that Beckett’s script might be legendary, but when in the wrong hands, those themes easily become muddled and obtuse, In this case however, his ideas are intriguing and thought-provoking…
The star studded cast does a great job of luring huge numbers of punters into the theatre, and they do more than their fair share of pleasing the crowds. Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh are truly brilliant. Their genius fills the auditorium, and we are privileged to witness their craft in motion. Of course, having such a rich text to play with does provide them with a solid platform on which to showcase the depth of their abilities, but they are both able to bring out so much life and meaning from it, and the level of poignancy they create in a single show is a remarkable achievement. Roxburgh is a surprisingly funny performer. His comic timing is impressive, and the laughter he creates prevents the show from developing overly dark. Weaving has the uncanny ability to make every utterance sound profound, and his use of silence and stillness to drive a point through is simply masterful.”
I’ll update with further reviews or photos as they become available, and would love to hear from anyone lucky enough to see this for themselves.
Here’s a great fan photo of the opening night curtain call by Benjamin Mathews vis Twitter/Instagram:
And a shot of Hugo in rehearsals, in what looks like fraught concentration:
Photo: Lisa Tomasetti/STC Facebook
While there were several galleries of Opening Night photos of notable theatre guests (focusing on Cate Blanchett, of course), there have been oddly none of Weaving and Roxburgh after the show. But you can view photos of Blanchett, Upton, Jack Thompson, Josh McConville (who played Hugo’s son in The Turning) and others at Just Jared and FashionMagazine247.