Waiting for Godot: Tom Stourton as Estragon and Tom Palmer as Vladimir. Photograph: Chloë Wicks

Citizens, the wait is over. Waiting For Godot, by common consent one of the most significant English language plays to emerge from the twentieth century, is coming to a theatre near you as the Arcola prepares to raise the curtains on Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece.

Traditionally casting older actors in the lead roles of Vladimir and Estragon, this performance will see comedy duo Totally Tom – which you may recognise from viral YouTube hit High Renaissance Man – take up the mantle, in a move aimed at turning traditional treatment of the text on its head and engaging a broader audience.

The Hackney Citizen caught up with director Simon Dormandy for a peek behind the scenes. So what can we expect from the show?

“It’s very funny, extremely sad, deeply weird and completely wonderful,” says Dormandy. “Everyone should see the play at least once in their life, and a good production is something you never forget.”

Written after the end of the Second World War, I ask if the play is still timely.

“It has in recent years started to feel like a period piece, at risk of becoming choked by its 1950s roots. Audiences at the Arcola production will see it set free from those roots and played as a completely contemporary play, about two young rough sleepers and the mad world they find themselves in once all sense of direction is lost.

“By casting two brilliant young comedians [Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton] in the roles normally reserved for elderly classical actors, we hope to bring out the play’s immense humour and show that it is absolutely of our time,” Dormandy says.

So how true does it stay to the original exactly? Very, by the sounds of things, though I wonder how they have made the play relevant to contemporary audiences.

“By setting it in a recognisable contemporary world, with clothes, settings, props and verbal rhythms that are absolutely of this moment, by treating it as if it were a play written yesterday and allowing ourselves to respond freely to what it suggests, while honouring the text to the letter, and by casting two brilliant young comedians in the leading roles,” says Dormandy.

So is this aimed at Beckett fans who are familiar with the play, or is it accessible to newcomers?

“Both. I’m a Beckett fan, as is everyone involved in the production, and I hope we will flush out and throw up some new ways of seeing this magnificent play through our approach,” says Dormandy.

“But I also want people who have never seen a Beckett play and are a bit put off by all the white wigs, inch-thick make-up and grey clothing normally associated with productions of his plays to feel confident they’ll get a completely accessible and thoroughly entertaining evening.

“Yes, Beckett can and should be highly entertaining as well as profoundly challenging and, ultimately, life-enhancing.”

Waiting For Godot
7 May –  14 June 2014
Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street
E8 3DL

 

 

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