The Daily Telegraph
March 27, 2015
There’s certainly a bit of Beckett in the air at the moment.
In just a few days, The Sydney Theatre Company begins its run of the Nobel Prize-winning Irish playwright’s Endgame starring Hugo Weaving, just as the Melbourne Theatre Company does the same with Colin Friels, while the State Theatre Company Of South Australia has just finished its Beckett Triptych season.
Samuel Beckett might well have been one of the most important writers of the 20th century, but these are works that go back more than 50 years. What’s going on?
“It is something to do with our time,” ponders Bruce Spence.
He and Sarah Peirse appear alongside Weaving’s character, Hamm, in Endgame, as Hamm’s rubbish-bin-bound parents, Nagg and Nell.
“It was post-war (when Beckett was writing) and the Bomb was looming, and right now I think people are feeling similar things,” Spence continues. “There’s a lot of insecurity, so I wonder is this by chance? It is interesting that they’re coming at a similar moment when the psyche of the world is insecure.”
And as Weaving points out, war has a habit of shifting perspective in a big way — “because if civilisation can be that brutal, that barbaric, then perhaps from a writer’s perspective you need to reappraise the way you address that civilisation in your writing,” he says.
Perhaps. There is certainly a sense of dire portent waiting beyond the events of Endgame, the very title of which alludes to the final series of movements in a game of chess. The work itself is easy to describe, but weirdly difficult to comprehend.
It unfolds in a single room where we find Hamm, his manservant Clov (Tom Budge) Nagg and Nell. Ham is blind and can’t stand, while his parents live in bins because they’ve lost their legs. Clov is free to leave but doesn’t, can’t, despite Hamm’s cruelty. And so the quartet passes time.
“You’re definitely surfing some unusual territory, and that is undeniable. It is strangely elusive, but then when you land on it, and you’re in the right place, there’s an effortlessness, an ease and a peculiar normality; it is quietly banal,” says Peirse.
And very much like Beckett’s masterpiece, Waiting For Godot — for which Endgame is often regarded as a companion piece — it is hugely funny. Genuinely, laugh-aloud funny.
There’s also more hope than the synopsis might suggest.
“Beckett is a humanist,” points out Hugo Weaving. “His people are frail, with so many issues and so many flaws, and they don’t believe
in much but they still want to go on.”
Weaving will be living in Beckett’s world pretty solidly for the next few months.
In 2013, he starred alongside Richard Roxburgh in an STC production of Waiting For Godot that heads to London — with for a season in June. Like Endgame, Godot was directed (when the initial director Tamas Ascher was struck down by illness) by departing STC artistic director Andrew Upton and it was that initial collaboration that gave rise to this one.
Waiting For Godot wasn’t easy but it worked, the play getting much critical acclaim and an invitation to London.
“I think that was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and I think Roxburgh would say the same,” Weaving says. “We worked our way through it and it was wonderful but just so difficult, and I think it was a big eye-opener for us all, and Andrew (Upton) said we should do another Beckett together, so that’s how this came about.”
It also came as a consequence of Weaving’s own investigations into Beckett’s work over the past few years.
“I’d only known his plays and a couple of his poems, but I didn’t know anything about him, so when Godot started happening, I thought I’d better find out about Beckett and read his other works. So that’s what I did, reading everything he’d written from the beginning right through to the end, and it’s been a great journey; he’s a wonderful writer and very funny,” Weaving says.
“He was very much ahead of his time, so maybe it takes a while to appreciate someone as a human being, rather than just having them on a pedestal. So perhaps his writing has become more accessible with time.
“He is a great writer, I think he’s the most important of the 20th century, but certainly the most seminal playwright of the 20th century, so for theatre companies not to do Beckett would be a crime.”