Waiting for Godot on BBC's The Culture Show

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in UK production of Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot'
'At 30 minutes, The Culture Show (BBC Two, Tuesday 10pm) is too long. Mark Kermode's hair continues to amaze. A heavy sculpture on top of his head. If it collapses, he will be crushed to death. Mark handed out Kermodes, little statues in the shape of himself, to scriptwriters, directors and actors that Hollywood had overlooked but he had not. It was all very postmodern.

'The presenter, Lauren Laverne, showed Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, both soon to appear in Waiting for Godot, Beckett's original notebooks. They were surprisingly full for one who dealt in emptiness. Lauren, dressed as Estragon or perhaps Vladimir, asked, "Can Godot engage with the credit crunch?" Apparently, the play might prompt theatregoers to be more aware of the problem of homelessness. Yeah, right.'

Gary Day, 'Good Works'
Times Higher Educational Supplement, 26th February 2009
While paging through a recent edition of the TLS, I came across a summary of some of the recently aired TV shows broadcast across the UK. Among the shows under review was BBC Two's Culture Show, a hip/indie outlook on all that's new and upcoming in the world of music, literature, art and film. I happen to be a big supporter of the show, not least for the presence of film critic Mark Kermode, whose weekly reviews on FiveLive have gotten me through many a dark night of the soul; it achieves a pleasant and accessible mix of high and low culture through a series of short asides and quirky clips.

The edition under review included a short interview with actors Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, who were caught on-set of the latest British production of Waiting for Godot. I happened to catch it a few days after the episode had aired. Lauren Laverne managed to snag a minute or two out of their busy schedule to ask them their opinions of their roles before taking the show on the road this March. There were a number of interesting tidbits from Beckett's life and work, along with an outline of the play's historical significance to modern drama and post-war European culture. And in all, it was an upbeat and enjoyable summary of both Beckett and the play. 

I only have one reservation. While attempting to emphasize Waiting for Godot's relevance to an economically-troubled Europe, I think The Culture Show neglected to recall the humour and dry wit that characterizes the play, and Beckett's work in general. I had the impression that Lauren Laverne was attempting to drum up support and appreciation for an unremittingly bleak and outdated theatrical work. But it is the humour that makes Waiting for Godot such an enduring success, and probably offers one of the primary keys to its continued accessibility. It might be a play exploring the trouble and torment of human existence, but it's not without laughs.