Waiting For Godot

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

In the middle of nowhere in a barren grey and white world, two old men stay busy doing nothing while putting their increasingly blind faith in someone destined to never arrive. So begins Samuel Beckett's now half a century old piece of bombed-out existential vaudeville, revived here by the Royal Lyceum's artistic director Mark Thomson to open the Lyceum Company's fiftieth anniversary season as well as his own swan song year in charge of the Grindlay Street institution.

Casting Brian Cox as a bright-eyed Vladimir and Bill Paterson as his more melancholy sparring partner Estragon is an inspired move from the off, as the pair wrestle with ill-fitting boots in Estragon's case or a wet-patch inducing prostate like Vladimir, all with a time-filling determination that borders on OCD.

As the pair indulge in terminal small talk and deadpan gallows humour on Michael Taylor's walled-in semi-circular set that lends things a real sense of faraway depth, Beckett's theatrical in-jokes remain intact, but are never over-egged. Instead, a far more moving portrait of broken humanity emerges than some of the more obviously music hall indebted approaches with which the play is sometimes loaded.

If itinerant visitors Pozzo and Lucky, played equally majestically by John Bett and Benny Young, represent an old-school master/servant hierarchy, Cox and Paterson's Vladimir and Estragon are the last gasp of a put-down but essentially decent co-dependent democracy in all its knockabout contradictions. When the pair embrace early on in the second act, destined to be forever reconciled, the way they cling to each other for comfort sums up the fall-out of generations thrown onto life's scrap-heap forever after.