Brought to the UK by Libby Brodie Productions (with directorial work from Mischief Theatre collaborators Mark Bell & Nancy Zamit), St James Studio is currently playing host to original play, Waiting For Waiting For Godot. It follows two understudies, Ester & Val, who are waiting in the wings to get their chance to go on in a production of Waiting For Godot. They are awaiting the arrival of the mysterious director, just as Estragon & Vladimir wait (in vain) for the titular Godot.
Over recent months, understudies have been placed firmly in the spotlight – most notably when Sheridan Smith had to take time off from starring in Funny Girl, and there is currently a storm brewing over the Les Misérables team’s decision to ban their understudies from publishing the dates they are on. So now seems like a good time to take a look, albeit a comedic one, into the uncertain world of covers and show people what it can be like.
It’s also a clever move to use Waiting For Godot as the subject of our protagonists’ ambition, Dave Hanson’s story mirroring Beckett’s classic work as much as it can. The action takes place in real-time, covering their production of the play’s first act, an interval & then a truncated second act. With a total running time of 90 minutes, it does feel a bit odd to have an interval in there (the timings being approximately 45 minutes, 20 minutes & 25 minutes) but it does at least have a solid basis in the narrative. For the most part, the show is a two-hander. However, the introduction of Laura the Assistant Stage Manager (Laura Kirman) is a useful tool to drive the story forward, and provide some hope for the understudies.
The corner stage is set up as the understudies’ dressing room, replete with props, costumes, an ironing board and even a toilet & sink. Within the intimate space of the Studio, it has a feeling of authenticity to it. Its design also allows audience members sat in either section to see everything that happens – something that can be an issue in a setup such as this.
Val (James Marlowe) is inexperienced in the acting game, initially seeming to show eternal faith in the system that he will get his chance to shine, but he soon starts to question his belief and wonders whether he should do something himself to try & change the status quo. Marlowe’s performance is sweet & naïve, though with more than a hint of determination. He also provides a highlight with an unexpected performance of There’s No Business Like Show Business!
In contrast, Ester (Simon Day) appears to have seen it all. He is full of words of ‘wisdom’ for young Val (“Acting is difficult; actors never should be!”), and even offers to give him some lessons which he is to pay for once he has become a success. One of the lessons is in “miserly acting”, the logic being that the teacher gives so little it forces the student to raise their game – and it consists of the student repeating what the teacher says. There follows quite a long series of repetitions, but in the hands of comedic talents such as Day & Marlowe it becomes almost inexplicably hilarious! Day shows Ester to be melodramatic but also justifiably despairing that his time has yet to come. It is a highly entertaining lead performance, with Day at his comic best.
My verdict? A timely comedy that explores the mindset of an understudy, whilst providing a hugely entertaining night out – big laughs guaranteed!
Waiting for Waiting for Godot runs at the St James Theatre Studio until 24 September 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.