Samuel Beckett’s modern classic tragi-comedy Endgame, is often referred to as a typical example of Theatre of the Absurd, but this production directed by Sam Strong filters the style to create a piece of art that feels like post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Featuring outstanding lead performances, this unique theatrical creation is worthy of being used for educational purposes.
In Strong’s interpretation, the ‘empty room’ set feels something like the inside of a silo. Made up of ‘concrete’ slabs with rusting pegs, a curved back wall is only broken by two highly set small windows and a half flight of stairs running to a bunker-like exit. Callum Morton’s design gives a wonderfully ominous feeling and goes some way towards earning a reprieve for his disastrous Other Desert Cities set, although considering the prescriptive nature of Beckett’s stage direction, the options are limited. Nevertheless, the gloomy foxhole-like feeling provides additional character and meaning to this production.
From first entrance, Clov (Luke Mullins) the manservant works about the room in an agonisingly methodical manner – climbing his stepladder and checking the windows, preparing the room and keeping an eye on things for his master. Mullins is a marvel, making the steward full of nervous tension and studied habitual physicality. The pain in Clov’s legs and feet is visible in his every move. There’s something of Frank Woodley about Mullins, in the best possible way, creating a clown of the darkest kind.
His berating master is Hamm (Colin Friels), holding court and ever demanding of Clov’s services. He is blind and cannot walk, so therefore only exists due to the efforts of his house boy, and yet he constantly harangues him. Further, Clov always does exactly as he is requested despite the fact he could easily leave and try to make the best of what is left of this bleak world they live in. It’s this interplay that is the crux of Endgame and due to some classically Irish-style diatribes from the pen of Beckett it’s here where the gallons of black humour also come from.
Hamm has many a delicious invective and Friels knows exactly how to make the most of them. Ranging from threateningly aggressive outbursts to quietly gentle requests, Friels colours Hamm’s language in a way that makes the man’s true frailty apparent while never making him feel weak or feeble.
As Hamm’s two legless parents – apparently amputated as the result of a tandem biking incident – Nagg (Rhys McConnochie) and Nell (Julie Forsyth) are confined to 24 gallon drums. Gawping and squawking like baby birds in a nest, the pair appear merely to demand food and offer dark commentary on their absurd situation. Even their costumes, grubby and mouldering, make them look like Tweedledum and a demented Miss Havisham. Eugyeene Teh’s costume designs are excellent across the board and Clov’s travelling outfit is a particular treat.
While possibly one of the most thankless roles in theatre, Forsyth makes the most of her short scene as Nell and delivers the play’s best line, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” with ironically gormless beauty. McConnochie offers many of the plays funniest moments as he argumentatively addresses his keepers.
The simplicity of this play and the meaningfulness of its setting offers a rich opportunity for lighting design that Paul Jackson doesn’t squander, beautifully progressing the plot by ever so slowly moving from positive and bright, natural down-lighting, to grimly cool up-lighting.
Strong has ensured that a delicious sense of inevitability is ever present in this production, which holds you mesmerised to its last moment as we wonder what will be the final end for this pair of hapless, stranded beings, who at their core are merely reflections of ourselves. Any student of the theatre should not miss this production.