They are not so old, the two tramps who wait by the road in Garry Hynes’s exquisite and acclaimed Druid Theatre production of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 masterpiece.
Waiting For Godot, Lyceum Theatre (****)
As played by Marty Rea – a tall, wiry, and self-mocking Vladimir with the physique of a self-conscious pipe-cleaner – and by a more stocky and clown-like Aaron Monaghan as Estragon, they seem less like two elderly gentlemen of the road living out their bleak last days and more like men in their prime shaken out of society by some disaster of poverty, incapacity or social breakdown, and surviving their misfortune with whatever good grace they can muster.
The effect of this shift of focus – with the whole stage framed in eloquent, glowing white by Francis O’Connor’s design – is both to make the play seem more urgent and contemporary, and to emphasise the strong temperamental differences between the characters: Estragon often passive and hopelessly forgetful, Vladimir more intellectually capable, restless and inventive, given to little private bouts of intense physical comedy, yet bound to Estragon by a bond he cannot break.
Rarely have Estragon’s sad reflections that they might be better off apart seemed more poignant, or Vladimir’s responses more like those of an affectionate but eccentric carer, making the best of things.
When Rory Nolan and Garrett Lombard appear as the rich man Pozzo and his abused servant Lucky, though, the two are absolutely united in identifying with Lucky as a fellow-member of some unspoken but well-beaten underclass; they almost seem to join in the applause when he completes the astonishing verbal fantasia of his famous “skull in Connemara” speech. And with the rich physicality of Hynes’s production adding an extra layer of pure, simple clowning comedy to an immensely rich evening of theatre, this Waiting For Godot affirms the play’s status as a spare and eloquent miracle of 20th-century art; one of those classic texts that is always shifting in the wind of time, and revealing new edges and facets with every passing year.
• Until 12 August, 7:30pm