The Whingers were once described by someone quite influential as “moderately influential” but the truth of this throwaway remark was stretched – like the waistband on Andrew’s elasticated slacks – to breaking point when it came to obtaining tickets for Waiting For Godot.
The Whingers had talked about seeing it on tour before it came to the Theatre Royal Haymarket but just didn’t get around to it, there being no teams of horses wild enough to drag Phil back into the provinces.
So the Whingers decided to call in a few favours. But it’s funny how people who “owed them one” suddenly suddenly stopped returning their calls. One (and he knows who he is) went as far as laughing in Phil’s face. Imagine that.
Things were getting desperate.
Phil hatched a plan to get elected as an MP, fork out cash to a tout and charge it as an expense, disguising it amidst his general ornamental duck house-related receipts if necessary. Andrew even considered the possibility of stalking and then seducing someone connected with the show, perhaps in a ghastly travesty of Mrs Robinson. But Phil believed this plan was likely to go tits-up by the time it got to the soft music and négligée and probably long before that.
Amazingly Phil had never seen Samuel Beckett‘s play (voted “the most significant English language play of the 20th century”) so he really had waited long enough for his Godot but with the irresistible star power* of two X-Men (Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart) plus Simon Callow and Ronald (“Ronnie”) Pickup it seemed his time had finally come.
And so it was that by using their most devious means, duplicity, deception, begging and offering Andrew’s body for medical research before his death they somehow managed to secure tickets.**
Beckett’s celebrated play in which nothing happens twice either side of an interval has been mulled over excessively in its 55 year history: a metaphor for the human condition, the place or lack of God, the futility of man’s existence, an allegory of the cold war etc. Wrong! The Whingers may not be Beckett scholars, but it was quite clear what he was writing about.
Beckett was writing about the Whingers.
Think about it. Two shambolic and less than fragrant tramps Estragon (McKellen) and Vladamir (Stewart) hang around on a road (or, as in this production in a decaying theatre set just crying out for a revival of Follies) waiting (for Godot). They turn up every night only to be disappointed. One complains of a gammy foot (Andrew), one has a notoriously dicky bladder (Phil). They are unsure about what happened yesterday, they forget names and faces. They’re bored, they bicker, they nag, they’re affectionate to each other. OK, so the last part may not fit the thesis, but the tramps have known each other 50 years and they behave like an old couple. They’re also considerably better dressed than the Whingers.
They wait, and wait and try to fill the hours with anything that will distract them. How like The Whingers, always waiting for something to divert their limited attentions from their hum-drum existences (especially Phil’s). Always waiting: for curtain up, for the interval, for the bar to open, for the play to end; desperate that something that might amuse them.
And amusing it proved to be. Sean Mathias‘s (McKellen’s ex-partner, keeping Monday’s Ex-Factor theme running) production has been criticised for playing up the comedy and playing down the tragedy but if that’s what it takes to make WFG watchable, count the Whingers in. They were amused.
If the second act (which basically follows the format of the first) began to outstay its welcome, that’s because it’s less funny. The five characters appear in the same sequence with even the same lighting cues. But McKellen is hilarious, getting laughs from a look, the delivery of a line or a bit of “business”. He also displays a fine pair of legs for a 70 year old*** albeit (perhaps a hangover from his Widow Twanky days) curiously hairless.
Simon Callow‘s turn as Pozzo is a delight: gloriously hammy, as ripe as Estragon’s whiffy boots, producing copious amounts of saliva and guzzling wine in quantities which left even the Whingers in awe. His bullying of his slave Lucky (Ronald Pickup – excellent, wonderfully put upon, Phil knew how he felt) shouldn’t be amusing but it is.
Phil had another of his Howard Hughes moments when Pozzo ate a chicken leg threw it on the stage to be picked up and (apparently – unless there was a clever sleight if hand) gnawed on by McKellen. Disgusting. Phil would never gnaw on Andrew’s old bones. But that along with McKellen’s carrot and turnip chomping the evening has prompted Phil to reconsider dusting off his discarded food-on-stage thesis.
* Although the current Broadway production with Nathan Lane and John Goodman sounds rather enticing too.
** Actually you too can have tickets as there are 11 front row stall seats available on the day from the box office for £10 each. Maximum two per person. But you have to get there very early. It’s hardly worth going to bed really. Yes there’s a lot of waiting for Godot. Or you can pay a student to stand and queue on your behalf.
*** The programme reveals the ages of the actors’ ages in the programme, but omits Stewart’s. McKellen “was born 70 years ago”, Callow (b 1949) Pickup (b 1940) but Stewart’s biog is less revealing, perhaps because he doesn’t look his age. Rather indiscreetly the Whingers’ research (which just involved looking at The Patrick Stewart Network) confirms his year of birth as 1940.