The Theatreguide.London Review
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
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
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.
Receive alerts every time we post a new review