Godot over the Decades


by Sarwat Ali

It is rare that the plays are staged in other cities than the one in which they originate. Even if the play is popular or is considered to be significant, its performance remains restricted to that one city. Even the most prominent ones with relatively lively theatre tradition and vibrant stage like the ones in Lahore and Karachi are not taken to other cities.

The obvious reasons can be of logistics and the finances to back the enterprise. Since most of the plays are sponsored, it is difficult to make the sponsors agree to dish out more for the play to be staged in other cities. Amateurs do most of these plays, and they have other obligations to fulfil than their devotion to theatre. It is after all not a full-time profession, while the unrelenting demand of earning a livelihood takes precedence.

‘Waiting for Godot’ is probably the most difficult play to stage because it defies the general rules of dramaturgy. Aristotle defined drama as imitation of action and ‘Waiting for Godot’ actually is imitation of inaction. And the play as it proceeds further continues to defy the Aristotelian unities. The play written after the end of the second world war, with Europe in total destruction, threatened by the imminence of a nuclear catastrophe, was an apt comment on the stage that human development had reached where it has acquired the power to totally annihilate itself while failing to pay sufficient attention to using the same outreach for the betterment of its lot.

It had the inevitable and frustrating ring of going back to the primal philosophical questions about the purpose of existence that man had always asked himself, and yet again failing to get a direct answer. This fruitless intellectual pursuit was labelled as absurd and the theatre movement that it generated for want of a better phrase was called the “Theatre of the Absurd” by critic Martin Esslin.

The play has been staged many a time in Pakistan with varying response. Probably the first time staged as an adaptation, it was titled ‘Subha Hone Tak’ and the brave initiative was taken by its director Ali Ahmed in the late 1950s. In those days Alhamra was trying to put its act together with Faiz as its new secretary and Ali Ahmed’s initial plays, all very serious and representing high theatre, pointed to the direction Alhamra was planning to take. It then staged many good plays in the 1960s.

In the absence of any action and proper speeches as in Elizabethan theatre, the burden shifts to either brilliant performances or a very good production design relying on highly innovative set and imaginative usage of props. Lighting too can play a decisive role. It is a challenge that all theatre people want to meet head on and thus graduate to be seasoned theatre hands. Theatre Wallay was brave enough to accept the challenge in Urdu.

The Alliance Francaise has staged other French classics like ‘Tartuffe’, ‘Lesson’ and ‘No Exit’ and intends to stage more French plays. Theatre Wallay, a group formed in 2005 in Islamabad, is willing to extend a helping hand. The support of the Alliance Francaise should be fully availed and more plays produced in one city and staged in the other should be made a regular feature. The director Tughraq Ali seemed enthusiastic enough and his team of Salman Zaheer, Tajdar Zaidi, Safeer Ullah, Osman Tariq, Abdul Rehman and Syed Hasan were equally enthused to carry the mission forward.

Usually it is the work of the Arts Council to make the facilities and the funds available for the plays of one city to be taken to the other. The efforts of the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) in staging festivals have shown some improvement over the years but it still remains a sporadic activity. The National Theatre or Drama Festival should have specific dates like in months of March or April so that the various groups in the country know that they also have a platform other than their cities to perform and so make preparations for it in the process of doing their productions.

The Alhamra have staged festivals as well as Punjab Arts Council but these too has remained on and off affairs while the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, other than the Youth festivals now for some years, has slowed down the feverish pace of its activities due to the security concerns and the drying out of sponsorship support.