Recently, Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” made a smash on Broadway, not so much because of the play, but because of its stars, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. My son saw it and gave me glowing reports, and I can only wish the production will show up on a DVD.
But Athena Learning has supplied the next best thing in a 2-DVD set titled “Theatreland.” It tells the tale of a season at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in eight parts, the first six of which show rehearsals, bits of performances, and all sorts of related aspects from many points of view that surrounded and were central to “Waiting for Godot.” Anyone just liking Theatre or having seen many plays or (better still) having been in the cast or crews of any plays will be fascinated by the goings on in a noted West End theatre.
Not only do we get to meet the stars (Stewart, McKellen, Ronald Pickup, and Simon Callow), but also the director, the stage manager, the man who tells the audience to be seated, the scenery designer and movers, and even the young lady who grouts the tiles in the restrooms. And let us not forget the understudy who once in the nearly 200 performances got his chance to take over for Stewart when the latter’s voice finally went. (They were doing eight performances a week, you know!)
There is even an episode devoted to the ghost of the Haymarket—all British theatres have one—and I do believe Stewart when he claims to have seen it during a performance. What the mind believes, as the saying goes.
I am not too sure I share the view that “Waiting for Godot” is a masterpiece. But when put in the hands of four superb actors, it does seem like one.
By way of contrast, the last two episodes show the beginnings of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” using the script based Truman Capote’s story. The titanic sets and the several changes are compared with the single set of “Godot,” and the moods of the two plays are poles apart. The contrast is obvious and I really would like to have seen more of the “Godot” performances. But I am grateful to Athena for what there is.
As always the booklet is most helpful and I still rely quite a bit on subtitles as time goes by along with my hearing.