Godot Is a Woman review – cheeky, geeky take on Beckett’s men-only rule

If you see it through a feminist lens, as theatre company Silent Faces have, it’s an almost Beckettian quirk of history that Madonna released her album Like a Prayer in the same year that Samuel Beckett died. The singer’s strident sexuality trumpeted a new female confidence that the playwright would never see. If he had, they argue, he might not have forbidden women from performing his most famous play, Waiting for Godot.

Why does this matter? Because it excludes half of the world’s population from seeing themselves reflected in an existential parable that speaks for the whole of humanity. In Silent Faces’ joyous song-and-dance show, this is both a burning #MeToo issue and a cheeky, geeky reflection on the patriarchal structures of authorial copyright. It means we have never seen Maggie Smith or Fiona Shaw chewing on carrots and pondering the point of life when nothing happens, nobody comes.

The show opens on three glum, bowler-hatted clowns (Cara Withers, along with Josie Underwood and Jack Wakely, who co-wrote the show with Cordelia Stevenson). The trio are waiting for the Beckett estate to answer their call about performance rights for Godot. They wait … and they wait, until a message that they have moved up to eighth in the queue sends them into a little sideways shimmy that cracks through the Beckettian torpor into something completely different.

From dancers in a burlesque chorus line whooping it up to Madonna and Ariana Grande, they become theatre historians, listing all the productions that have been banned, then judge and jury in a travesty trial of the Beckett estate, interrogating such delicate issues as whether Vladimir’s masculinity rests on a prostate problem (he keeps having to nip off for a wee); and where its outdated strictures leave Jack, who – as non-binary – regards themself as “neither man nor woman”.

The weakness of their argument is that the estate wouldn’t allow a man to play Winnie in Happy Days either – and they get round it by trashing Beckett’s very fine writing for women (Not I? “part girl, part object”). But who cares when, in Laura Killeen’s well-paced staging, it’s all such a riot? Actually, I found to my surprise at the end, I do. When the telephone rang out across an empty stage vacated seconds earlier by three smart, endearing performers who had stripped right down to the common humanity of underwear, I felt a genuine stab of sadness about all those missed opportunities.

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