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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Endgame and Rough For Theatre II
Old Vic Theatre   Spring 2020

Like all his works, Samuel Beckett's Endgame strips the human story down to a bare essential, allowing – or forcing – us to see things we might otherwise have missed or avoided.

Like all his works Endgame is multilayered, but at its core is an acknowledgement of interdependence. We may not like each other, we may be cruel to each other, but we can't function without each other and had best come to grips with that.

Hamm and Clov live in an uncomfortable master-servant relationship. Blind and wheelchair-bound, Hamm is totally dependent on Clov, who is himself physically lame and mentally unequipped to function outside the boundaries of a servant's job. Hamm continually abuses Clov, who grumbles impotently.

Neither is a particularly attractive human being – Hamm keeps his aged parents in actual dustbins, feeding them on scraps (See what I mean about stripping reality down to its naked core?). But they need each other, and neither is prepared to go too far and upset the symbiotic relationship.

Beckett tells this story with his signature mix of low comedy and pungent comment. There is some pure circus clowning involving a stepladder, and resonant exchanges like 'What's happening?' - 'Something is taking its course.'

Director Richard Jones finds all the humour and all the darkness, and keeps the through-line of insights clear through almost all of the play. (I don't want to say that Beckett lingers on a little too long – that's unimaginable – so I'll say that director Jones's control flags in the last fifteen minutes or so, losing the play's rhythm and momentum.)

Richard Jones also draws exemplary performances from his actors. There is little surprise that Alan Cumming can do full justice to Hamm's snide matter-of-fact nastiness while hinting at a fragility beneath.

The real revelation is Daniel Radcliffe as Clov. This is not Radcliffe's first post-Potter stage performance, but it is far deeper and more fully realised than anything I've seen him do before. He almost makes the play about Clov by discovering and demonstrating that it is his character that experiences the most pain and undergoes the greatest growth.

While Alan Cumming's wry attitude shows Hamm constantly (and perhaps frantically) diverting himself from full awareness of his condition, Radcliffe creates a Clov without the capacity for such self-delusion and therefore more fully aware of, and more fully tormented by, the emptiness of his life.

Typically for Beckett, the play ends with us not knowing what is going to happen to either character, but it is Radcliffe's Clov that we care about more.

As the bin-dwelling parents Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson are their usual reliable selves, Horrocks able to make the simplest line into a joke, while Johnson invests everything he says with a solid reality.

Endgame is preceded in the evening by the 20-minute Rough For Theatre II. While a man stands on a ledge contemplating suicide, two cosmic bureaucrats played by Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe grumble about being called in on their day off to sort out his file, finding evidence in everything he's said or done in his life to support a conclusion that his final act will or will not be in character.

Along with incidental humour – 'You'd be the death of me if I were sufficiently alive.' – the central serious joke lies in the men's just-doing-our-job trivialisation of the event and the absurdity of trying to define and explain a life through a file of data. It's a small piece but, typical of Beckett's shortest works, with more meat to it than many a longer play.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Endgame & Rough For Theatre II - Old Vic Theatre 2020
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