The award-winning actress finds herself in a tight spot this month, for Samuel Beckett’s Endgame
When Time Out meets Sarah Peirse at the Bar at the End of the Wharf for lunch, she orders a cauliflower salad. “I’m climbing into a bin shortly, and it’s all a bit squashed,” she explains, “so I don’t want to be full.”
Peirse ended 2014 on a high note, playing caustic lesbian crime writer Patricia Highsmith in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Switzerland – “a tomcat into whose territory a mouse has wandered”, as we described the role. In January, she won a Sydney Theatre Award for her transformative performance.
This month Peirse is back at STC – but in a garbage bin. As Nell, one of the amputee parents in Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Peirse will spend the duration of each night’s performance almost completely out of sight – except for her face.
She’ll be in good company, of course: Bruce Spence, playing her husband Nag (also confined to a bin); Hugo Weaving, playing their blind and wheelchair-bound son, Hamm; and Tom Budge, playing the hapless servant Clov. (“Beckett said Waiting for Godot is about waiting to see if Godot will come, and Endgame is waiting to see if Clov will leave,” Peirse quips.)
As Nell, Peirse also gets one of Beckett’s greatest lines: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” But with Switzerland fresh in our minds, it’s hard not to see the role as a waste of her talent.
“It was so invigorating playing Highsmith – she was so resolutely herself, so anarchically, intelligently and horribly magnificent,” says the actress. “She was very freeing to play – not having to be constrained by anything. You just have to embark on the interior of that woman, and however that emerges, with all its own ugliness, is okay.”
“It can be hard coming off a career high like that,” she admits. “But in a funny kind of way, coming into Endgame is sort of perfect, because it’s a role of such interior density. And yet I hardly say a thing and I’m hardly present. It couldn’t be more opposite to Highsmith. I guess the only thing they have in common is that they’re both nearly dead!”
For Peirse, Endgame is a fascinating working-out of Beckett’s personal crisis. “He had joined the French resistance [during World War 2] and experienced the absolute devastation of war-torn Northern France,” she says. “This is a traumatised piece of writing – the agony of what it is to be human and have such capacity for destruction. It’s a cry of grief. The humour comes from the absurd pointlessness of everything in the face of annihilation and death.”
“The rehearsals are not a laugh a minute, that’s for sure,” she adds. “Even so, Bruce and I were working on a sequence before – and if you observe Beckett’s pauses in the text, there’s a huge capacity for it to be funny. And a capacity to laugh at least signals that you’re still alive!”
Endgame is at Roslyn Packer Theatre from Mar 31 – May 9, 2015.