As a teenage schoolboy Matthew Lloyd relished acting a scene from Wait-ing for Godot with its cruel humour. As an Oxford under-graduate he enjoyed the play's handling of language. On a Harvard fellowship, Lloyd found Ivy League US literature students who were ill-at-ease with other works became excited in discussing Godot. Now directing the play in Manchester, he again finds its appeal can be widespread.
Premiered in England in 1955, this play without a story shows two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for a Godot who never arrives. It lacks everything a drama should have but has become, says Lloyd, a touchstone for all subsequent theatre, appealing to the artistic radical and "tackling our con-fusion over what we're here for".
Of the pair, Vladimir is usually considered the more speculative, Estragon the physical person. But these initial roles overlap. There's a much starker contrast between the other pair of characters who happen along in the roadside setting, Pozzo and Lucky.
Vladimir has the memorable philosophical formulations on life and death, mostly near the play's end when "he seems to unlock (these thoughts) so giving much more progression in the play than it's often given credit for". Nevertheless, these speeches do not give the usual sort of dramatic resolution.
Lucky's long speech with its mix of philosophical sounding phrases and argument, becomes a recompense to Vladimir and Estragon for entertaining them. But with Vladimir and Estragon themselves there is "free, vagrant thought. It's worthless but you regard it more."
Lloyd is interested in the initially bombastic Pozzo and his laden servant Lucky. "I am interested in power and possession as emblematically represented in the play. Pozzo and Lucky come from a world where there are possessions and power relationships. Vladimir and Estragon exist outside that." And the play's central metaphor, waiting, suggests powerlessness.
Casting emphasises the contrast between the two pairs, with Scottish actors playing the tramps and an English Pozzo and Lucky. Lloyd wanted "to explore the potential of Scottish accents, but it also gives an outsider voice". He says the English accents make a metaphor for much more rigid power structures.
The boy who announces at the end of each act that Mr Godot won't be arriving offers another contrast. "Vladimir and Estra-gon are older men and I they're physically decaying. The young boy is still growing, not under-mined by this as yet, though he has a life of privation no rosier than Vladimir and Estragon's. If he's not beaten as much as his brother, he's shaping up to be a Lucky to the Godot he claims to represent."
Manchester Royal Exchange Theatr May 12-June 26. Tickets: 0161 833 9833.