Wednesday, October 4, 2017

“I’m afraid I took “break a leg” a bit too seriously”, quips Robert Fothergill when we first speak. The playwright is hobbling around after breaking his femur.  It’s healing nicely and the injury didn’t delay the opening of his latest play, LET’S GO…at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace last Wednesday.

Fothergill has a long history with a couple of guys named Gogo and Didi.
He first encountered them in London back in 1957 (or was it1955) and they’ve hung out intermittently ever since.

WAITING FOR GODOT may be getting a revival at SoulPepper right now, but at the same time, Fothergill and colleagues are presenting a funny and fanciful prequel about an earlier period in the lives of 20th century English language theatre’s most famous comedy duos.

It’s a charming, bittersweet look at a young Gogo and Didi, who Fothergill ahs imagined as pair of young vaudevillians, riding around from gig to gig on a tandem bicycle. “Bicycles were a trope for Beckett.  The tandem is a metaphor: Gogo and Didi are dependent on each other.” When we meet the pair  in LET’S GO…the two are at a crossroads: as a team, and, in their lives. They are also discovering they may be at cross-purposes in life.

Like the source of its inspiration, LET’S GO… explores what’s worth waiting around for and what’s worth going after.

Fothergill  seems to have taken his early time studying Beckett’s two most famous creations as fair warning.  Certainly he hasn’t wasted his own life. He wrote an M.A. on Beckett’s novels while still in the U.K, where he grew up and was educated.  He wrote his first play in 1965, which appeared in a festival of new work at the University of Toronto.  The following year he began teaching at York University, where he taught 1st year theatre history until 2006. Two of his pupils from York appear in t he current production.

He made a famous pseudo-documentary, COUNTDOWN CANADA in 1970, which may have been one of the first broadcasts of satirical “fake news” in this country. His play DETAINING MR.TROTSKY about the famous early 20th century’s Communist’s month-long detention in a prison in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1917 was produced by Bill Glassco at the old Toronto Free Theatre, forerunner to Canadian Stage.

Fothergill has retired from teaching but remains a very active playwright, with shows at Summerworks in Toronto in 2003, 2004 and 2007. After all this time Beckett still interests him.  ‘I wanted to take a second look at Godot.  Beckett was an incredible pessimist, in spite of having had a very nice life. Gogo and Didi didn’t need to end up like that,” says Fothergill. “Life is better – and worse than waiting around.”

At the end of our chat Fothergill very kindly asks me about myself and my own career and writing practice. This never happens when I interview someone and I’m very touched that he made the effort. “My wife says, Ask a question.” She needn’t have worried.  Like all good scholars – and writers, in life and in art, Fothergill asks at least as many questions as he answers.

LET’S GO…continues this week from Wednesday to Sunday at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto.  Tickets: Regular tickets are $25 Student and Artsworker tickets are $15. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling (416) 504 7529