Four of the leading actors of our age combine to perform one of the 20th century’s most justly celebrated plays . . . small wonder that the new production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is the hottest of hot tickets. Audiences at Milton Keynes this week are privileged to be experiencing a major theatrical event ahead of the rest. From April 30, the play moves to the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Director Sean Mathias brings a cheeky irreverence to the piece, which is perfectly captured in the joshing, joky approach of its stars, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. So ‘influential’ has Godot become (it needs those inverted commas) that it is good to be reminded just how funny it is. This, after all, is the play that first toured America in the 1950s billed as “the laugh sensation of two continents”.

McKellen calls it “rich, heart-warming and joyful”, Stewart speaks of it as “very much a comic double act” in music hall style. To judge by the guffaws of laughter echoing around the theatre on Monday, they certainly know how to to tickle the funny bone. Best, perhaps, came last – and of their own devising – as they interrupted the curtain call for an engaging song and dance routine, with much waving of their bowler hats.

An important dimension to the production’s success, of course, is the rapport that exists between the two actors, both long-standing members of the Royal Shakespeare Company who have known each other for decades. This introduces an important ‘back-story’ to their portrayal of characters who might be assumed to share (though this is never spelt out) the same thespian background over a full 50 years, as specified in the text.

The action is played out here in a set (Stephen Brimson Lewis) presenting the ruins of a once-grand theatre, now shivering under a blanket of frost with the famous tree (first bare, later sprouting leaves) at its centre. The wintry tone is experienced, too, in some of the dialogue, especially that of McKellen’s Estragon, the more world-weary of the two tramps. He is presented as something of a bluff northerner, with more than a touch of his native Lancashire burr to his voice. Stewart’s Vladimir, by contrast, is a smoother, more refined character. A friendship of opposites then, perhaps.

As might have been expected, the dense and lovely language in which the play is written is interpreted in a way to delight and sometimes to astonish. Stewart’s delivery of the great speech towards the close of the play (“We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries . . . But habit is a great deadener.”) was moving and masterly.

Simon Callow, meanwhile, offers the sort of bravura performance for which he is justly famous as the ringmaster-cum-aristocrat Pozzo, grievously mistreating his servant – the most preposterously misnamed Lucky (Ronald Pickup) – and encouraging others to do the same.

Until Saturday, telephone, 0870 060 6652 ( keynes) from April 30, Theatre Royal Haymarket, telephone, 0845 481 1870 (