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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Duchess Theatre      Autumn-Winter 2009

Samuel Beckett's Endgame is a kind of companion piece to his Waiting For Godot. While that play shows two men able to survive a cruel and unreliable universe because they are bound by love, this one shows two men bound by hatred and eagerly waiting for the release of death.

And while 60 years have made the formerly enigmatic Godot almost transparent in its clarity, Endgame remains more of a theatrical poem, allusive and elusive in its meanings.

Which is to say that you won't understand every single minute of Simon McBurney's new production, but you will find much that bypasses intellectual analysis to speak directly to you, as poetry does. And if you know the play, you will be intrigued by a fresh interpretation and two powerful performances.

The two central characters, Hamm and Clov are - or might as well be - master and servant, the blind and crippled Hamm reliant on the constantly grumbling Clov for everything.

They hate each other and yet are bound to each other, so that the ambiguous suggestion of Clov's departure at the end is unconvincing - these two, incapable of anything but tormenting each other, will torment each other eternally.

Richard Briers was originally announced to play Hamm, and it would have been interesting to see him fighting his natural charm and warmth in the role. Mark Rylance, by playing Hamm somewhat younger than usual, gives an extra bite to the character's bitterness.

This is a man who knows he has years of this miserable life yet to go, and who still has the energy and passion to feel and express his pain intensely.

Meanwhile director McBurney himself plays Clov, not as one beaten down by a lifetime of servitude, but as a young and muscular handyman type who has to sense that there is something better than this out there somewhere.

Famously, Hamm's heartlessness is dramatised by his having his parents living in onstage dustbins, and in their brief appearances Miriam Margolyes and especially Tom Hickey appropriately and touchingly display more human warmth than the other two characters are capable of.

Can despair and nihilism be called entertaining? Aristotle said that high tragedy exercised and therefore exorcised our darker emotions, and Endgame offers us a symbolic vocabulary with which to consider our own fears of impotence, abandonment or emotional emptiness. (There are also, in passing, a lot of funny bits.)

With the added attraction of McBurney's taut direction and the freshness and power of the two central performances, this Endgame is well worth experiencing.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Endgame - Duchess Theatre 2009

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