Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a play in which famously nothing happens – the same is not true of this Silent Face’s production.
The piece opens with a clear homage to the classic play, with the stage dominated by a leafless tree and cast members Cordelia Stevenson, Josie Underwood, and Jack Wakely roughly assembled in bowler hats and shabby clothes.
From there, things start to diverge. A telephone is playing hold music, with the trio apparently on hold to the Beckett estate as they patient wait (what else?) for permission to stage Godot with a non-male cast, something fiercely and litigiously resisted by the writer’s representatives.
This playful approach successfully explores the absurdity of that restriction, with the not-quite Godot nonetheless evoking many of the themes and aspects of the original that inspired it. The company have a talent for physical theatre, and there are some lovely jokes: escalating, envious round of hugs and a heavenly copy of Beckett’s play that remains stubbornly unreachable are just two.
The production, however, doesn’t quite know how to sustain these smart allusions and instead switches gear into a TV court show parody, that dissolves into a dance number-come-lecture on the evolution of LBGTQ+ rights. This takes the release of Madonna’s Like A Prayer as a baseline for social change – seemingly only because it came out the same year as Beckett died.
It’s still funny, but it feels less like an integral evolution of the first part and more something tacked on to get to a full length show; it’s a 70 minute straight-run overall. The argument that non-male casting should be allowed because “things have changed” in the last three decades is much less convincing than the cast’s earlier demonstration of why the everyman can be an everyperson. Humanity went beyond men before 1989, too.
This is high tempo, entertaining, and offers a forceful challenge to Beckett’s male-only casting – but not quite for the reasons it thinks it does.