Opinion with Silent Faces

Josie Underwood, Cordelia Stevenson
Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Still waiting for Godot. Two members of Silent Faces Theatre speak out about restrictions around performing Beckett's classic and how they're challenging these with their new play, Godot is a Woman


If there's one question at the centre of Waiting for Godot, it's probably ‘What are we doing here?’ It's a question that everyone ponders, regardless of generation, race, class, religion, sexuality and gender. It's this that tempts theatre-makers time and again; surely any audience would relate? Take, for example, Susan Sontag's version during the Siege of Sarajevo, or the production by inmates at San Quentin prison, or in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. This play begs its audience to consider their existence, and what they should do with it.

Since it was written, womxn have been chomping at the bit to play Vladimir and Estragon, but Samuel Beckett simply wouldn't allow it. He and his estate have taken many hopefuls to court over the matter.

The issue with a version played by women is not that it wouldn't make sense, but instead that it challenges Beckett's ownership of his work: He wrote the play. He didn't want women to perform it. It might seem simple that this should go unchallenged. However, the attack on Beckett's decision is just as much a compliment to his work. The reason there is such a desire to stage a female version is that it can speak about anyone's existence, a privilege not exclusive to men.

In Beckett's refusal to grant women the rights, he either admits that his play is not as perfectly articulate as we thought, or that he did not see men and women on the same level. While Beckett's fan club would rush to deny the latter, we're sure they would insist that the reason for the play's position as a classic text is exactly what we've established.

At the early stages of development for Godot is a Woman we had a decision to make: plough on with an illegal version, or acknowledge the problem. We could easily argue why we wanted to do the play, but we also had to face the reality of the situation. We then decided to use our platform to point out the flaws in the archaic decisions upheld by Beckett's estate and many others and, as opposed to the theme of Waiting for Godot, use this new work to highlight the experience of the marginalised.

If we can't thank Beckett for letting us do Waiting for Godot, we can at least thank him for being the catalyst for this feminist exploration.

Silent Faces Theatre is an integrated company of disabled and non-disabled artists who make brave, ridiculous, unique and challenging theatre that pushes the boundaries of clown and physical theatre in a contemporary political context. Their new show, Godot is A Woman, premieres at The Pleasance Theatre, London, in January 2021. www.silentfaces.uk