Written by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Andrew Upton
Sydney Theatre Company
Roslyn Packer Theatre
Theatregoers generally either love Samuel Beckett or hate him although some fall, like I do, in between. Last year, the STC presented a superb production of Waiting for Godot which Andrew Upton had to finish directing when the original Hungarian director, Tamas Ascher, had to withdraw at the last moment. It will soon be playing in London at the Barbican Theatre.
There were some naysayers who said that Upton still had to prove his chops as a director. I am not one of them.
Any Beckett production needs great directors and actors so they can untangle the play to make sense of it for the audience. They also need to find the humour, which is there but often remains hidden.
They also have to follow the instructions of the Beckett estate as he only died in 1998. A famous Neil Armfield production of Godotfamously ran into trouble at Belvoir when it added a music score.
This production avoids that with a clever set and lighting design by Nick Schlieper (who usually only does lighting). The design cleverly turns the cavernous theatre stage into a narrow, cage-like room reaching to the sky, and is all grey and dank.
The play opens with Clov, all bent over, chirpily starting the day by opening the curtains and having to climb up a very long ladder. Tom Budge sets a wonderful clownish opening to the show that continues for the next 110 minutes.
Clov next pulls the curtain-like covering off Hamm (Hugo Weaving) who, after playing with his giant handkerchief, begins communicating with Clov in what seems to be a daily ritual of power and command.
It is never clear to me what their relationship is. While it seems to be a power relationship the two are probably brothers as at one stage we meet their parents, Nagg (Bruce Spence) and Nell (Sarah Peirse), who live in garbage bins and seem to only emerge when Hamm wishes them to. Hamm cannot move or see so obviously Clov is in the real power position — but is he a victim of his own power?
Along with the full house I sat mesmerised by this production, marvelling at Weaving’s mastery as he uses only his voice and arms, the powerful clowning performance of Tom Budge who has not acted on stage for 10 years, and the rarely-seen Bruce Spence and the extraordinary Sarah Peirse whose appearance is way too brief. I believe that the parents were not in the original script.
Somehow there is always lots of humour to be found in these bleak scenarios of Beckett’s worlds.
This is a very classy production and if you want an introduction to Beckett this is a good one to begin with: his plays can get way more bizarre.
The production is engrossing. Let’s hope that Upton, who is leaving for the US with his family, comes back occasionally to team up with Weaving again.