BWW Review: WAITING FOR WAITING FOR GODOT, St James Theatre, 1 September 2016
The show must go on. And on. Even for the understudies trapped in theatrical purgatory, forever waiting for their chance to perform. So far so Beckett? That's the premise of American playwright Dave Hanson's affectionate absurdist parody, offering a lighter take on the master's existential philosophising.
Much of the pleasure comes from the low-key double act of Simon Day's posturing veteran and James Marlowe's clueless newbie, understudies in a production of Waiting for Godot. The former attempts to school the latter in the 'Miserly' technique (repeating what the other actor says over and over again) and 'Mammay' (AKA Mamet), or the art of the swearing.
The Godot figure is the all-powerful director, who might appear at any moment to gift them their big break - if only they can remember their lines after all this time. That would certainly thrill Aunt Mary, who comes along night after night just in case her nephew finally appears on stage.
The winkingly meta gags will certainly please an industry crowd, with lines like "Acting is difficult - actors never should be", the invocation of theatrical superstitions, and the arrival of a surly, overworked ASM (Laura Kirman), who proceeds to demonstrate that anyone can act by giving a dramatic reading of lighting cues.
There's also some more universal - and occasionally profound - exploration, as the would-be actors wonder if they've sacrificed milestones like marriage and home-buying by placing their faith in a future that might never materialise. Is staying "in the moment" a dramatic necessity or a trap?
But though it aspires to Beckettian palimpsest, this mainly plays as gentle comedy, with slapstick touches like an intruding ironing board, literal pissing contest and exaggerated crisis brought on by the theft of a waistcoat. The small studio space limits the clowning, however, with just a few glimpses of director Mark Bell's (The Play That Goes Wrong) gift for organised chaos.
Day's fruity, melodious mispronunciations ("Rar-dar" for RADA - one of several UK updates) have a Steven Toast quality - if less surreal - and he gives a memorable gorilla impression morphing into Brando in Streetcar, as well as sending up the type of luvvie who solemnly declaims on the sanctity of art. Marlowe is winningly puppyish, and shows decent pipes in a rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business".
Sophia Simensky creates a convincingly cluttered backstage area, hemmed in by a clothes rail and incongruous props like a giant flamingo, and Andrew Josephs provides the tinny soundtrack of a tannoy - evoking a stage so tantalisingly close.
It's a slightly awkward playing length, particularly with an unnecessary interval, and falls somewhere between energetic, fast-paced comedy and truly thoughtful, developed drama, but if it occasionally frustrates in its seeming lack of purpose, perhaps that's only appropriate.
Picture credit: Andy Tyler