David Neilson and Chris Gascoyne as Hamm and Clov in Endgame / Credit: Tim Morozzo
Until Saturday 12th March, 2016
It is now almost sixty years since Samuel Beckett’s absurdist tragicomedy first premiered at the Royal Court Theatre back in 1957, but although the piece is considered to be one of the author’s more macabre and challenging works, it is nevertheless given a superlative revival in this impeccably staged new co-production between HOME and the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow.
Now widely considered to be a classic of the modern theatre canon, this is yet another bleak, minimalist work from one of the most influential playwrights of the 20th century – and the man behind such other acclaimed works as Krapp’s Last Tape, Happy Days and Waiting for Godot – infused with Beckett’s trademark blend of minimalism, black, gallows humour and a grim exploration of life and human existence.
Unfolding in a single, filthy, desolate room – with only two small windows, damp, peeling walls, a dingy light and no furniture – the play centres around the blind, wheelchair-bound tyrant, Hamm and his dutiful yet increasingly resentful servant, Clov – two lonely, irrevocably bound souls who pass their days caught in a monotonous spiral of repetitive routines and verbal battles – whilst Hamm’s elderly parents sit in the corner of the room, devoid of legs and reduced to living in metal dustbins.
David Neilson makes a very welcome return to the stage having last appeared in the Library Theatre’s revival of Waiting for Godot back in 2008, and on the strength of his exceptional, tour-de-force perfomance as the tyrannical Hamm, he proves himself not only a highly accomplished stage performer but a master of Beckett. Let’s hope he doesn’t leave it so long next time, though I’m assuming his role as one of Coronation Street’s most endearing characters would make it quite difficult to get the necessary time off on a more regular basis.
Likewise Chris Gascoyne is equally as impressive in what is probably the more challenging role. A strange combination of The Addams Family’s Lurch, Frankenstein’s Igor and The Rocky Horror Show’s servant and handyman, Riff Raff, Gascoyne’s tall, hunched, stiff, bandy-legged Clov is an exercise in physical theatre, pathos and comic timing, and Gascoyne’s intense, personal attachment to the material – as detailed in the programme notes – most definitely comes through.
The highly experienced and ever reliable Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty complete the quartet as Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell.
It is of course a very wordy play, and one that often relies heavily on the delivery of text, but this is an expertly judged production, refusing to bow to the unremitting gloom, highlighting the considerable wit and humour that lies within and offering a much deeper look at the emotions that have forged and maintained what is often a rather ambiguous central relationship.
An avid chess player, Beckett takes the play’s title from the final stage of a chess game when there are very few piece left, and as we watch the various pieces fall and the light slowly draw out, it makes for a very moving and enthralling ninety-minutes of theatre.
It is by no means the easiest night in the theatre, but Dominic Hill’s captivating production pumps a new, refreshing lease of life into Beckett’s claustrophobic and unrelenting war horse, and it is difficult to know how it could be bettered.
Running Time: 1 hour and 35-minutes (approx.) (no interval)
Final Performance at HOME, Manchester: Saturday 12th March, 2016.
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