We went to see "Waiting for Godot" last Thursday with Sir Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in the main roles of Estragon and Vladimir, and Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup as Pozzo and Lucky. These were tickets which we bought a long time ago - hitting redial for about half an hour to get through to the Theatre Royal box office, and even then, we got some of the last tickets remaining (seated, at least - when we arrived at the theatre, almost every available space around the back and sides was filled with people standing!).
It was worth both the panic at the buying stage, and then the long wait, though. The performance was amazing! The stage setting was very sparse, and appeared to be deliberately ambiguous as to location and time; this could have been set at any time from late Victorian through to any time in the future. There were some glorious lighting effects (the moonlight was particularly beautiful, throwing lacy patterns onto the stage).
Of course, the stars of the show met and exceeded expectations. SIM as Estragon was a thoroughly believable tramp - I spent a good chunk of the first ten minutes peering forwards wondering if it really was him! The range of his emotions, and the complete bewilderment when he was being reminded of something he'd forgotten, sustained throughout the two and a half hours on stage, was fantastic.
PS as Vladimir was always going to be PS - he has such a powerful personality both on stage and off that it is slightly difficult to adjust to him portraying someone else. However, once I'd got past the "Squeeee, I'm watching Patrick Stewart!", I really enjoyed his performance as well. His mood swings were just wonderful to watch, and you really got caught up in the emotion.
The double act was even better than the two performers on their own. You really got the sense that these were two people who had been together for half a century, and who knew each other so well that sentences didn't need to be finished. Their genuine affection and joy for each other radiated out from the stage.
Both stars are approaching 70, and, as such, are exactly the same age as the characters they are portraying - apparantly the actors would usually be a lot younger due to the physical nature of the show (Estragon's character appears climbing over a wall at the start of each half, and the byplay with Pozzo and Lucky, particularly in the second half, gets very active), and I was incredibly impressed that both of them were doing this night after night for what is (round the country) a very long run! Yes, I know that they are actors, and this is their job, but they are both coming up to five years past retirement!
One of the pieces of production which I loved happened right at the start of the second half; there was one tree on stage, and at the beginning it is bare and dead. As the curtain goes up after the interval, there are a few leaves on the tree. The change was so subtle that I looked at it wondering whether I had just been inattentive and missed the leaves, and they had been there all the time. This played brilliantly with the whole theme of memory which runs throughout the play (but is much more prevalent during the second half); of doubting whether your own memory is correct, and whether an event actually happened or not.
I also really enjoyed the fact that I could understand what was happening. This might seem a given for going to the theatre, but I knew that Beckett is a bit random and wasn't entirely sure whether I'd be able to follow what was going on! (Particularly since I'd got completely lost at the Ionesco a couple of years ago) (John had offered to show me the video that he has beforehand so that I'd get an idea, but I'm very glad now that I didn't - some of the jokes relied a lot on the suprise of what was said, and I'm glad that I didn't know what was going to happen in advance). The meaning of the play - well that is a different matter; there are so many interpretations as to what was going on, who Godot is, why they are waiting for him, that I could keep on thinking about it and realising something new till next year, and still not have covered it all. Which means that I get extra value from the play! ;-)
Overall, the play was amazing - I thoroughly recommend anyone who can to go and see it (though I understand from my little sister that the cheapest seats now available in London are £50!)