Godot is a Woman
Reviewed – 8th June 2021
“all will certainly be inspired and enlightened by its end”
In 1955, the English-language version of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot premiered in London. Initially denounced by critics as ‘boring’ and ‘a play where nothing happens’, Beckett’s tragicomedy about Vladimir and Estragon waiting endlessly for a man named Godot (who – spoiler – never arrives) is now considered one of the most significant plays of the twentieth century due to its exploration of the human condition.
However, despite such a universal theme, an ugly sexism hangs over the play’s casting. Beckett strongly objected to the idea of women taking on the roles of the play’s two protagonists, his estate going as far to file lawsuits against theatre companies who attempted to do so. Through a combination of debate, dance numbers, and, as expected, tedious waiting, theatre troupe Silent Faces address this outdated restriction in a thoroughly playful manner in their new show Godot is a Woman.
Jack Wakely, Josie Underwood, and Cara Withers (the two former also co-writing the play alongside Cordelia Stevenson) take to the stage in the scruffy attire and bowler hats associate with Beckett’s two leads. The trio work harmoniously together, bouncing off each other and switching between roles with ease.
The play starts off rather slow with little dialogue, most likely intended to reflect the sedate pace of Beckett’s original work. This is admittedly a bit of a slog especially for those unfamiliar with the source material which the three are parodying.
The play picks up significantly in its second half with choreographed dances, lively debate in a mock court trial, and several dramatic costume changes. A particular highlight is a medley of hits by female artists from Madonna to Dua Lipa while the cast list female firsts and achievements since Beckett’s death in 1989. It is (rightly so) argued here that social and cultural attitudes to women have changed so significantly in the last three decades that it is frankly absurd to uphold the wishes of a dead man who may have indeed changed his opinion had he lived into the twenty-first century.
The mock trial is the strongest section of the performance, eliciting the most laughter from the audience and clearly communicating the ridiculousness of this gender restriction. It begs the question why the entire show did not take on this format as it is here where the cast really find their rhythm, passion, and voice.
The set (Frances Gibon) features the leafless tree backdrop and the rock on which Estragon repeatedly sits of the original play. There are several amusing props including a Waiting for Godot book that hangs by a rope above the stage (acting as the holy book to swear by in the court scenes) and a diagram of prostate used to (poorly) explain why Vladimir, who frequently has to leave the stage to urinate, cannot be played by a woman.
The sound design (Ellie Isherwood) is particularly strong with jolly telephone ‘hold’ music playing almost constantly throughout the performance to evoke a sense of endless waiting. Audio clips from BBC Radio 4 are also utilised well to demonstrate the intense discourse and lasting legacy around the play and its performance.
In Godot is a Woman, the unceasing waiting of Beckett’s play is ultimately replaced with action, movement, and liveliness. It is a symbolic moment when Wakely, Underwood and Withers announce that they will be ‘going, not waiting’ and leave the stage, something Beckett’s characters are unable to do. Those unfamiliar with Beckett’s seminal work may struggle initially with this performance but all will certainly be inspired and enlightened by its end.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Ali Wright
Godot is a Woman
Cockpit Theatre until 12th June
Reviewed this year by Flora: