I won’t say I read a lot of plays, because I don’t particularly, but I do enjoy reading and sometimes seeing them when I can. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is one of my favorites. I like a good helping of existentialism, and I love a play with minimal… well, everything. Not many characters, hardly any props, barely a set at all. It stretches the limits of what a play is and does, not by filling the time to bursting, but by focusing completely on a script and two actors’ performances. Godot is all the more enticing because it’s so hard to film, meaning there aren’t many ways to see it outside of a live performance.
To make matters even worse, what (I assume) was the best ever live production happened in London in 2009 and I couldn’t go, because it was in London and I was a teenager with no money. But it starred PATRICK STEWART AND IAN MCKELLEN. They’re both SUPER AWESOME actors in their own rights, but also the sweetest most adorable besties in the world, so seeing them perform Godot together would’ve been pretty much peak amazing. Apparently everyone else agreed, because the show ran for 172 sold-out performances and is considered the most successful Godot production to date.
Of course, they didn’t film a performance for the rest of us, the selfish gits. But they did make Theatreland, an 8-part, 3.5-hour documentary released in 2014. I (and a number of Amazon reviewers) got super excited thinking it would be a video of a performance, and it’s not, but it’s the closest you can get. It’s got McKellen and Stewart talking about their roles and rehearsing lines, plus a few tantalizing clips of them performing on stage. It’ll never substitute seeing the real thing, but clips are better than nothing.
That said, it’s a shame that the DVD’s marketing leans so heavily on them and the draw of that specific production, because it’s more often about the theater itself, the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End. It’s one of the area’s oldest theaters, and probably more than half the documentary is about maintaining the building and running front-of-house. It features one of the ushers, a cute aspiring actress, more often than McKellen and Stewart combined. There’s an episode about possible ghosts in the theater (which does contain quite a bit of Stewart), and the final episode is about the Haymarket’s next production, Breakfast at Tiffany’s starring Anna Friel.
I couldn’t help but feel that Godot and the Haymarket were fighting for attention in the documentary, to both their detriment. I would’ve loved more detail about Godot, and likewise if it’s all about the theater I’d have liked a longer timespan or a more focused topic or something. But even so, it’s a good documentary and I really enjoyed watching it. I learned a lot about what’s involved in putting on a play, especially in a historic theater — they have to check every seat, every day, because they’re constantly in need of repair and the theater obviously doesn’t want a customer’s seat collapsing under them during a performance!
Theatreland has a lot to offer Godot fans, bookish people, theater enthusiasts, Anglophiles, and even aspiring actors. As long as you don’t expect a Waiting for Godot film, watch and enjoy. And if you just want Godot, the best way to get it at home is still to just read it. I promise it’s good!