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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Godot is a Woman (Pleasance Dome)

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

A profoundly theatrical middle finger to the Beckett Estate

We have waited a long time for an all-female adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It has been nearly seventy years, and there is still no sign that it will ever be possible. That’s because during his lifetime Beckett insisted that the characters could only be played by men, a rule that has been upheld after his death by his estate. Godot is a Woman by Silent Faces Theatre is about waiting for Waiting for Godot; of gearing up to perform, standing by the phone, hoping it will ring, but of course, it never does.

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

Performers Cordelia Stevenson, Jack Wakely, and Josie Underwood explore the reasons why Beckett and his estate banned non-men from playing Vladimir and Estragon. They unpick all the many attempts that have come before them to stage the play with women, consider existing roles for women in Beckett’s other world, and perform absurdist comedy in the style of Beckett, all to pass the time. We’re also treated to spitefully feminine dance sequences to the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift.

Everything that you could want from a response to the Beckett estate is in this performance. Every argument, every excuse, every bit of resentment that women and non-binary people have built up crammed into 60 minutes. More importantly, that resentment is made theatrical. For example, the reason that Beckett gave for the play being impossible to be performed by women is that one of the characters has a prostate complaint. To illuminate the ignorant audience, we are introduced to the very serious medical professionals Dr Wimple and Dr Womple, shown a very serious illustration of an enlarged prostate, and given a very serious insistence that because Vladimir has to urinate a lot he could never be played by a woman.

But within the fun, there is still a serious note, a genuine disappointment, and personal frustrations. As performers and as women/non-binary people, their passion comes from a very real place, and all three deliver performances that reflect that. Their clowning, their speeches, their dancing, and even their lipsyncing are all excellent and prove, unequivocally, that they are capable of playing Vladimir and Estragon.

This is a company that clearly loves Beckett’s work, especially Waiting for Godot. It is one of the most significant plays in literary and theatre history. But its legacy of excluding women and non-binary people ought not to be forgotten, and neither should Silent Faces Theatre’s response to it. Godot is a Woman is not just about being excluded from a play or being excluded from classic theatre: It is about being excluded and discriminated against in general. It is about being considered unfit to speak on human existence because of your gender, and being forced to decide between breaking free from a system that was never built for you or continuing to wait for equal treatment. But from exclusion and marginalisation comes the most defiant and uplifting theatre imaginable, and that is exactly what Godot is a Woman is. Five stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: "I loved it. It was really empowering." "It had good laughs and good music." "Really inclusive too." "I loved the feminist music bit!"

Godot is a Woman will run at Pleasance Dome in the Queen Dome until August 28


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