Waiting for Brain Surgery: Sam Beckett, Godot, and Druid Theatre

When I started this blog last month, I never dreamed I would find a way to bring together my work as a theatre academic with my experience as a brain tumour patient. But, the time has finally arrived (no pun intended, actually).

I work for the Galway International Arts Festival for a few weeks each year and part of my job involves seeing almost everything on offer.  This year was a fantastic production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot by the company that was the focus of my PhD thesis: Galway’s Druid Theatre. Quite frankly, it’s the best production of the play I’ve ever seen.

Now, I don’t love Beckett’s work. I’ve taught it for years and I certainly appreciate it, but I don’t love it. (Am sure this is a horrifying admission for my academic friends and colleagues but I remain unapologetic.) The thing is, though, I respect Beckett’s work. For me, his seemingly impenetrable writing started to make sense after I found out two things about him as a person: (1) in his younger years, he was viciously attacked and nearly died and (2) he was part of the French Resistance during World War II. Academia isn’t a big believer in analysing artists’ works in relation to their biographies as it is seen as reductive. For me, however, it makes sense that Beckett’s surreal plays and prose are, in part, surreal because of those experiences. Previously, I understood this in terms of WWII and the atrocities of the Holocaust. How could something like that actually happen? Now I understand it in terms of a serious health condition. How could like this actually happen to me? This is some crazy stuff. And if I write a play later in life, I can pretty much guarantee it will, in some way, reflect my experience as a (I hope!) brain tumour survivor.

Waiting for Godot is, arguably, Beckett’s most well-known play. Famously, one critic of its premiere in the 1950s stated that it’s a play in which nothing happens…twice (!). Basically, the play tells the story of Estragon and Vladimir as they wait for Godot to arrive, ’nuff said.  Under Garry Hynes’s skillful direction, Marty Rea and Aaron Monaghan as the two tramps bring alive their mundane conversations through banter and great physical comedy. Think slapstick, think Charlie Chaplin meets the Keystone Cops, and that gives you a flavour of the hilarity that abounds in this production.

The waiting, though, that’s the important thing as is what happens when we wait: how we wait, what we talk about, what we don’t talk about, what we do, what we don’t do. Rea and Monaghan did a wonderful job bringing out the sibling-like relationship between their characters, which, in some ways, mirrors the banter between a married couple.  Like Gogo and Didi, my husband and I have had a few pratfalls, a few soft looks, a few moments of anger and a few of sadness. But, we’ve done it together just like Gogo and Didi. And so, like them, we wait…for brain surgery.

 

 

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