‘Godot’ finishes run in Beijing

By Zhang Yuchen Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/13 20:13:00

A scene from Waiting for Godot Photo: Courtesy of National Centre for the Performing Art

"Godot!" the audience cheered as the lights in the theater brightened once again to reveal four German actors taking a bow on stage to a storm of applause. 

Presented by the Deutsches Theatre Berlin, Waiting for Godot came to end on Saturday in Beijing. This final performance also marked the end of German festival Theatertreffen's first theater exchange with China.

"I'm quite proud," director Ivan Panteleev told the Global Times.

"It's a really good work so I was not really surprised they selected the piece," Panteleev said.

This is the first time Panteleev and his troupe have come to China. According to him, after his play was chosen to tour the world from among the 10 "most remarkable" productions at this year's Theatertreffen, they had visited a number of countries such as Brazil and Bulgaria. Of them, his trip to China has been the best.

"I thought 'It would definitely be great if we can go there [China] and perform.' It's a little dream for me, which is coming true," he said.

Setting the stage

Focusing on two tramps' surreal behavior and absurd dialogue, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot has long been seen as setting the standard for a play that can entertain audiences, while also - as one review puts it - "putting them to sleep."

However, Panteleev's adaptation didn't seem to bore the audience at all.

Although the show was performed in German and the subtitles had a hard time keeping up with the tense and stormy dialogue, Panteleev used some eye-catching tricks throughout to keep the audience's attention on the play.

The most shinning example is probably the huge pit that sit at the center of a tilting stage. Most of the time, the actors stood on either side of the pit as either side of the stage moved up and down like a giant seesaw.

Panteleev admitted the pit was a difficult challenge because actors always want to stand right in the middle of the stage. However, the pros far outweighed the cons in the end.

The pit aside, Panteleev's stage dressing is purposefully simple. There are no baskets, no chairs, no bottles of wine, no bones, no shoes; all props have been replaced by a huge bright pink cloth.

After the show premiered in Shanghai, numerous people who saw the play began trying to figure out the metaphorical meaning behind this stage design. Some felt it reflected the chaos that was going on in the character of Lucky's head.

"Sure there is one," Panteleev said, explaining that the idea for the stage setting originated with Mark Lammert, the play's stage and costume designer. According to him, the meaning of the stage design should be obvious.

"Everything is very transparent," he said.

As to why he chose the color pink? Panteleev didn't give out an exact answer, but at a guess it probably represents hopes for a beautiful life.

Looking for something different

"In Germany directors and actors allow themselves to do things you would never see in London, Paris or New York. Can you imagine such a production in London for instance? Without hats? And props? No - they all rely on naturalism," Samuel Finzi, the actor who plays the character of Vladimir once told playstosee.com in an interview.

According to Finzi, this creativity exists due to German theater's unique system of art that looks to present a "completely different approach to theater."

According to Panteleev, his trip to China has proved inspirational in this respect. He mentioned that he had the opportunity to attend a rehearsal of a traditional Chinese opera while in Shanghai.

What he saw gave him food for thought.

"They always want to repeat a movement, repeat a sound, repeat music. I'm trying at every single rehearsal to not repeat the last one, to just move forward and look for something different," he told the Global Times.

Simple questions

"Who is Godot?" someone once asked Beckett after his work premiered in 1953.

His answer was: "I don't know."

Showing his loyalty Beckett, Panteleev gave the same answer when it comes to his adaptation.

Panteleev said that he doesn't feel that the play is doing anything too unique, as it is merely asking the same questions that human beings around the world ask themselves everyday. It is for this reason he was confident that the reaction to the play in China would be good.

It seems that Panteleev was right to feel confident.

"Waiting for Godot sticks to Beckett's script, but shows creativity when in comes to stage setting and presentation. It successfully pays respect to the original while pleasing audiences," writes one review on Chinese media review site Douban.

At first, Panteleev didn't have a chance to get a clear understanding of Chinese audiences' reaction to the play. At first all he could do was sit quietly behind the curtain during the performance and watch the audience. But after the second performance in Shanghai, he had a chance to talk and interact with the audience during a workshop.

"There were probably 100 people sitting there, asking very clever and interesting questions and very patiently waiting for explanations. I think they are our friends in a way. Or they became our friends in a way," he said.

Newspaper headline: The wait is over

Posted in: Theater

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