By Samuel Beckett
Director: Andrew Upton
Associate Director: Hugo Weaving
I had not seen Beckett’s Endgame before last Friday night so it was not only a night of theatre for me but also an adventure to experience this work.
Only four cast members appear on stage which is comprised of a desolate, poorly lit grey setting and the sound of water dripping. The rituals of life: waking, eating, moving, communicating, sleeping … are as culled of beauty, comfort, and love as the play’s stage (set and lighting by Nick Schlieper). To experience Andrew Upton and Hugo Weaving’s vision of Endgame as an audience member goes way beyond empathy and imagination into a real-time experiential connection. I frequently felt I was suffering as much from the onstage angst as were the performers who were waiting for the end – and, like the performers it was only their repetitive dialogue about futility that kept me there for its wickedly funny insights.
Hugo Weaving owns the role of the tyrannical Hamm whose heart is not really into his dictatorial role any more but, confined to his chair, sees little alternative; Tom Budge as the long-suffering Clov is an adept physical clown and the most down-trodden and sweetest of victims. Add dust-covered and ashen Nell (Sarah Peirse) and Nago (Bruce Spence) who live – if that is an appropriate word for their existence – in old metal barrels on stage and you have the whole extended family. Nell and Nago exhibit a loving connection in the play through the sharing of a biscuit and of memory. This glimmer of love, however, is treated as routinely as the exchanges of Hamm and Clov and this handling makes it all the more tragic; an exchange about something that both know connects them in their separateness. I forgot to mention the stuffed dog.
Not only does Beckett represent a tired and almost worn-out model of this life, stripped bare of all the warmth and magic that make our lives complete but he also projects this bleak vision back into the past and also into the future with the repetition of father/son relationship seemingly represented eternally like a psychometric chain. Through the eyes of Clov we glimpse a young boy approaching at the end of the play. You can imagine Beckett working out the least number of characters needed to provoke this representation of eternal futility and the least number of appallingly funny, angst-ridden lines to keep his audience riveted while presenting a philosophical position of remarkable depth about pointlessness.
More Samuel Beckett please! I don’t adhere to the existential vision embedded in Endgame but I’m astonished that it can be delivered with such compelling humour. It is also a timely reminder to live creatively and not be a slave to what has come before. Look where that has got us!
(* This is my response to Endgame and I am sure there are as many interpretations as there have been performances. Endgame was originally written in French by Beckett asFin de Partie in 1957. He also was the translator of this work to English. Beckett believed that this gave his writing an advantageous brevity.)