The universal nature and appeal of art is convincingly demonstrated in Young-Woong Lim’s Korean production of Waiting for Godot. Without a word in English or nary a Surtitle to be seen, it fell to the gesture, tenor and tone of the actors to bring Beckett’s genius across to the multilingual audience. In nearly every case, the timeless, rich script was served up with generous helpings of insight, impressive flow and knowing glances. If only the sauna-without-a-temperature-gauge conditions in the theatre could have been cooled so that the parchment remained in the leaves of the play and not the mouths of the crowd.
Dong-Woo Park’s stark set, discreetly lit by Jong-Ho Kim gave a minimalist backdrop to the multi-layered tale of relationships and roles. The dragon-like branch of the singular tree was a wonderful touch; the dazzling full moon added both physical brilliance and metaphorical hope to the troubled proceedings below—only a few more buds on the bare limbs for the second act might have been more at one with the text.
The first-rate cast, under Lim’s savvy direction, used the sparse stage to full advantage, adding deft physical reinforcement of the script’s near relentless flow of verbal thrust-and-parry.
As Vladimir, Kuk-Hwan Jun managed to avoid the temptation of colouring his physical movements with Charlie Chaplin touches that are so often slipped in. His ceaseless teeny steps—darting about like a pinball as he searched in vain—added a musical quality that was compelling at first, magical at the opening of Act II, but just a tad tiresome after that. Playing Estragon, the Felix to Vladimir’s Oscar, Sang-Jong Park plumbed the expressive naïveté to its full depth. He is highly gifted, employing a sense of timing that made his many rapid-fire dialogues with his partner-in-life a constant pleasure in any language.
Kyoo-Tae Lee’s impressively detailed costuming gave the actors both freedom of movement and visual characterization. Estragon’s ongoing boot gag (both his own difficulty removing or pulling them on and the reaction of his colleagues to its dank odour scent—with a cracker-jack payoff when Vladimir realizes that if the shoes are present, then their reunion scene can’t be far off) worked at every turn; all of the hats seem unthinkable on anyone else’s scalp. Once removed, Pozzo’s (Young-Suk Lee, whose metamorphosis from tyrant to dependent was effective and convincing) baldness had a marvellous circus-clown look that was perfect for his animal-tamer’s countenance as witness his rope, ever-present chair (hilariously sat upon) and cat o’ nine tails taming devices.
In the role that defines stoicism and features one of the most frantic and extended speeches of all time, “Given the existence as unfettered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann …” Lucky (Jin-Woo Chun) is the foil to which the others must “bounce” off if Beckett’s intentions are to be fully realized. Once again a hat—best described as brown-felt Tilley—shrouded Lucky’s eyes, adding further mystery to the lassoed servant who—initially—is mute, seemingly content to stand on the spot and hold his master’s baggage for hours at a time. Chun was clearly up to the demands, bringing a range of emotion and understanding (and, when fully revealed, a face that any camera is sure to savour) to his role reversal that puts this version (Lim and his company have produced it dozens of times) into the top rank.
Worth the price of admission alone was Lim’s metaphorical rendering of the twin act-ending stage direction “They do not move.” Geppetto would have been proud. JWR