IN 2013, Druid Theatre Company established an ensemble of actors that would have a relationship with the company more sustained than that offered by a production-to-production basis.
The company — Druid founder-member Marie Mulle, Marty Rea, Rory Nolan, Aaron Monaghan, Aisling O’Sullivan, and Garrett Lombard — meet throughout the year as part of Druid’s artistic process, one that has seen the company mount a succession of large-scale productions, such as Druid Shakespeare and Druid Murphy.
The ensemble has allowed for an artistic process that is a two-way street between the actors and director Garry Hynes, as the company’s production of Waiting for Godot shows.
“The early discussions were between the four of us,” says Garrett Lombard. “It was our idea and we brought it to Garry. The four of us are very good mates at this stage and we were sitting around after rehearsals talking about what we might do in the future. Beckett came up. I was reading him a lot at the time and the more we talked about it the more it made sense.Gary fell in love with it straight away, and could see the logic of the idea.”
Godot is hardly what you call a neglected play, but it’s been turning up more frequently in recent years. Top Beckett interpreters Gare St Lazare have had their turn, and the great Gate production with Barry McGovern and Johnny Murphy as Vladimir and Estragon has become almost the elephant in the room. It enjoyed extraordinary longevity and popularity, from the early 1990s right up to a national, 32-county tour in 2008. And memories of that are all the fresher since RTÉ’s recent airing of a documentary about it.
“It was almost seen as untouchable, with the iconic production the Gate had,” agrees Lombard. “We felt it was time it was taken over by a new generation. That was our initial idea. It was also the idea to demystify Beckett somewhat. A lot of people see it as academic, as dense and difficult, almost beyond them. We wanted to take that away, to make it as simple and understandable as we could.”
Lombard is one of Ireland’s busiest stage actors, with a long CV of work with Druid, and at the Gate and Abbey theatres. He hit the ground running career-wise in 2005, with a lead part in Pure Mule, Eugene O’Brien’s dark take on midlands life during the Celtic Tiger years.
In all that, though, there’s never been a part like Lucky. The name itself is Beckett’s dark joke — there’s precious little lucky about Pozzo’s slave. But the name could also almost be a joke on the actor who plays the part: Lucky’s speech is one of the most technically testing things an actor can be asked to do. “To be honest I hadn’t considered the part until Gary asked me would I do it,” says Lombard.
“It’s a type of part that I’ve never played before, a challenge. You’ve got to be fit. Mentally and physically. It’s physically demanding because the character is constantly bending over and carrying all this stuff and mentally demanding because the speech is such a stream of consciousness, lacking in normal rational language.”
Godot played last summer at the Galway Arts Festival, to rave reviews. “We were really pleased,” says Lombard. “We achieved exactly what we’d set out for and even more. People felt they got the humanity of it, that they understood it, it wasn’t beyond them. Perhaps the relationship between the four of us, because we know each other so well, helped get that human aspect through. And, also we got in a young crowd, and that had been high on the agenda — to introduce a young crowd to that play, to the work of Beckett.”
- Waiting for Godot is at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, from April 22-May 20