The setting appears to be the interior of one of those deformed stone watchtowers on some damp Northern coastline. It appears that the expansiveness of the exterior functions more as a barrier to escape than an environment to inhabit causing a claustrophobic atmosphere that has taken years or decades to surpass simple cabin fever and become a kind of societally stratified balanced madness. The inhabitants of the castle exist as a kind of diseased bickering muddled mini- society which can be taken as symbolic of our “normal” society as a whole, (or not) depending entirely on whether the interpreter has an axe to grind. Suffice to say the characters are “Hamm” (Hugo Weaving) who spends the play ensconced in a comfortable armchair (which may be seen as a throne) (or not) and who orders everyone about. He describes himself as senile, so he may be seen as a king. His especial servant is “Clov” (Tom Budge) who runs hither and yon about the stage at every beck and call and being far more mobile than the rest of the cast, is responsible for the physical comedy. Its a big job, Mr Budge is on the move for the entire play scuttling from one side of the stage to the other. His main prop is a twenty foot ladder and I lost track of the number of times that he climbed it, all the way to the top; after carrying it across the stage from one side to the other. No housepainter works so hard; I pitied him and wondered that at the end of the play he seemed to still be word perfect, even as he glistened with sweat. Actors delight me.
Hamm is a less likeable character; he sprawls backwards in his chair bossing Clov, bellowing when he thinks it will achieve his purpose; bribing Nagg with sugar plums when shouting fails. In short Hamm is every inch a king, but not the phantasy monarch of king William and Kate – he is more the nasty reality of King Rupert (Murdoch) himself the unvarnished face of power itself.
“Why do you obey me?” Hamm asks Clov, “Is it because you love me?” “I loved you once”, replies Clov, getting a titter from the audience who interpret the line as reference to some past homosexual pecadillo that has left Clov “unmanned” and effeminated, fit only for service. As far as that goes, the one service which Hamm truly desires is the most poignant and happens to be the one which Clov sadistically(?) withholds. At one point Hamm exclaims “if you must hit me, don’t beat me with the dog – use the Axe!” Hamm is apparently very old, and wants to die, but can’t, giving rise to one theory I have heard, that these three characters are already dead, and the surreal place they occupy is hell. but then as I said earlier, ”EndGame” is surrealistic and symbolic, a horse which may be hitched to a variety of wagons, some undoubtedly unintended by the author.
The performances (particularly Hugo Weaving’s as Hamm and Tom Budge as Clov) are flawless, and Bruce Spence beaming up at the world out of a garbage can is not something I will soon forget – nor will I try to. Sarah Perse does rather better than can be expected with the little that is available to the character of “Nell” – But Beckett does not seem to write for women.- For most other playwrights “Nell” would probably be a lynchpin character perhaps even the bone of contention, the lone woman between three men – but with Beckett she is anything but that. Instead existing merely as a kind of inferential proof that the male characters are not necessarily homosexual since they have a putative outlet for any profane lusts which may disturb them. Beckett is a strange writer. interesting, but strange.
I unreservedly recommend this production of “EndGame” by the Sydney Theatre Company. The perform