April 9, 2015
Hugo Weaving full of relish as Hamm and Tom Budge unleashing energy as Clov in Endgame. Picture: Lisa Tomasetti.
You can play this apocalyptic drama, with its slow slide towards death and finality, for the unhappiness and yearning for an end that the characters keep expressing, and the result can be a very bleak experience. What makes this production so successful is that it is played with a kind of luscious exuberance. We are watching the enthusiastic childlike games of old people trapped in an impossibly grim situation.
Andrew Upton’s absorbing production opens on a magnificent set, designed and lit by Nick Schlieper, that is like a soaring dark cathedral stretching up through the height of the huge stage. (The production is at the former Sydney Theatre, renamed the Roslyn Packer Theatre.)
The walls shimmer with dim light reflected off water. The two windows that Hamm (Hugo Weaving) insists Clov (Tom Budge) keep looking out of are very high but are joined by others in higher rows, like a gothic Tower of Babel. The rubbish bins that Hamm’s parents Nell and Nagg live in are derelict oil drums.
All this imagery of decayed human aspiration is deeply ironic, given that, notoriously, Hamm is blind and confined to a wheelchair from which he cannot rise and Clov is crippled and cannot sit. Nell and Nagg, standing on their stumps in separate drums, cannot even kiss each other. Outside, of course, there is nothing left of the world.
The playing style here is full of relish and is often very funny. Weaving’s acting has seldom been better, as he throws himself with apparent delight into each new futile game, joke or story. His hands, arms and face, the only means of expression Hamm has left, move constantly, flailing and grimacing desperately against the dying of the light.
Budge’s Clov is servile and hunched but he is the only one still capable of movement. He plays Clov’s sudden flashes of false enthusiasm for Hamm’s endless game-playing with an energy that suggests the remnant of a childhood before the realisation sets in that, as Hamm says, “We’re on earth, and there’s no cure for that.”
Even more happily childlike are Sarah Peirse and Bruce Spence, moving as the ancient parents confined to their bins. All their memories of what life once felt like, the palpable sensuality of it all, have been reduced to this sorry state. But they are still there.
Upton’s production, with Weaving as associate director, does brilliant work with this rich, multi-layered script. It is a myth that nothing happens in Beckett’s plays. Here there is not a line that is not pointed, not a reference that is not hinted at, not an action that does not move us forward.
Forward towards nothingness, of course: that is the point. But as in all of Beckett’s writing nothingness never quite comes. There is just that infinitesimal dwindling. If nothingness ever did arrive then we, or the characters, would be dead. And we can never experience that. That is the final spark of optimism in all his work.
Endgame By Samuel Beckett. Sydney Theatre Company. Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay, April 7. Tickets: $20-$115. Bookings: (02) 9250 1777 or online. Duration: 110min, no interval. Until May 9.