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WAITING FOR GODOT (article first published : 2006-05-19)

Down at the Catalina Theatre at Wilson’s Wharf is an excellent interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s absurd theatre piece Waiting for Godot presented by Themi Venturas Productions in association with the Durban High School Drama Department.

I don’t normally get to attend productions aimed at school audiences in the company of the youngsters themselves but when I do, I listen to their reactions as much as I observe the actions on stage. Those around me today were riveted and there was very little shuffling, a sure sign of boredom. They responded to all the nuances and offbeat humour with delight and recognition.

Apart from featuring well-known performers Clinton Philander and Hamish Kyd in arguably their best performances to date, the play introduces a new drama director into mainstream Durban theatre in DHS teacher Shaun Gray who is better known in the city for his stand-up comic work. If his handling of this production is anything to go by, we have a director of considerable talent in our midst and I hope that we will see more of his work in the future.

Waiting for Godot is one of Samuel Beckett's most famous works. Originally written in French in 1948, Beckett personally translated the play into English and its world premiere took place in Paris on January 5, 1953, in the Left Bank Theatre of Babylon.

It’s a bizarre piece which sees two tramps aimlessly wandering around a kind of wasteland – with only one tree in sight (a delightfully skeletal concoction by Peter Court who designed the set). They are waiting. Night falls. They wait. A few days later, a couple of leaves sprout on the tree. Still, they wait. Often they lose the plot and can’t remember who they’re waiting for, let alone why!

The tramps represent man’s body and man’s intellect. Estragon (“Gogo”, the body) is played by Clinton Philander – a delightfully manic and grouchy misfit who complains a lot, especially about his boots! The calmer, more controlled Vladimir (“Didi”, the intellect) is played by Suheil, another interesting and talented new face on the local theatre scene.

Into their muddled-up world comes a strange stentorian man who tends to lose things – one Pozzo, played by a nicely-controlled and commanding Hamish Kyd who has an even more bizarre character as his slave. This is Lucky who high-steps like a horse, acts as a kind of simpleton valet and is tethered to Pozzo by a long rope. Lucky is played by Gareth Purchase - a very exciting young talent to watch. Alexander Venturas handles his role well as the young boy who arrives with the news that Mr Godot isn’t going to make an appearance.

The script mainly comprises pithy one-liners and these must be delivered at a fair pace in a kind of vaudeville, Chaplainesque grotesque mix of pathos and humour. I couldn’t fault Clinton and Suheil’s rhythm and their antics drew much hilarious response from the young learners. Much of the humour in the play is derived from the fact that they are supposed to be one entity.

Shaun Gray’s crisp and clear direction has pulled excellent performances from his cast and the play tumbles easily along its mildly chaotic way. He’s brought his production closer to South African audiences by incorporating the accents, humour and sayings of the coloured community to add to the amusement. Apart from Clinton and Hamish, the rest of the company – including resident Catalina lighting designer Thomas Peters - have close affiliations with DHS. Hats off to an excellent collaboration.

Waiting for Godot has performances at 11h00, 18h00 and 20h00 on certain days, running from May 17 to 26. Tickets R25 per learner. Teachers accompanying scholars are offered one free ticket for every 10 learners. Shows in the evening open to public at R60 per person. To book call Liesel or Thandeka on 031 305 6889. Learner or theatre lover – don’t miss it! – Caroline Smart




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