For those of you unfamiliar to the Beckett scene, it’s sparse, with perhaps a few pertinent props and never too far from a serenely sinister silence. Although minimalism may be a notable feature of the Beckett mis-en-scène, one never goes wanting in the domain of existential musings, and in this regard, the STC production of Endgame (1957) is no exception.
Always associated with this admirer's favourite work and namesake, Waiting For Godot, Endgame is one of Beckett's more elusive major works and could be considered equally as difficult to get right. Attempting to tackle one of these works is always precarious, walking a terrifyingly tall tightrope between tedious and transcendent. Yet, having seen the acclaimed STC production of the former in 2014 with Richard Roxborough and Hugo Weaving at the helm, I believed this practiced pair would stand me in good stead, sure I would be entertained at the very least by one of the portrayals (which turned out to be the understatement of the year).
The one act play takes place in a small stone bunker where Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell comprise the last four people on earth after an unnamed catastrophic event. Each crippled by a certain malaise, Nagg (performed by Bruce Spence) and Nell (performed by Sarah Pierse) are the legless parents of Hamm and who are confined to dustbins, whilst Clov (performed by Tom Budge) is the begrudgingly doting servant to Hamm who finds himself unable to sit. All three provide admirable interpretations in this ominous opus and succeed in doing justice to this challenging piece which purports a depiction of life’s declivity into degradation.
However, if these three form the gems of the seasoned cast, then Weaving is surely the crown jewel with a lustre that puts all others to shame. Playing the cantankerous Hamm, it almost seems as though the part was simply waiting for him to grace the stage, and unlike the overdue Godot, Hugo does arrive, and in fine form. Confined to a chair and suffering from the loss of his sight, Weaving commands the stage and through the use of voice and gesture alone, embodies the ideal of elocutionary excellence. Truly his métier, these finely tuned thespian stylings are why people frequent the theatre. The mastery he displays in such an enigmatic and demanding role truly separates amateur from artist.
A production that is artful in more than one area, set and lighting designer Nick Schlieper and director Andrew Upton make up yet another capable couple. Paired together, their work creates some truly compelling imagery. The set is suitably minimal and with subtle touches, such as the dripping and reflected water, keeps true to the Beckett vision. Complimenting this, Upton's direction makes for captivating viewing, drawing out the truth behind the absurdist veil. In a world so devoid of life's pleasures, be it bicycles or the ever-elusive sugarplum, people are the only thing one truly has left. The relationships between these characters reveal their important property of confirmation, highlighted through every pairing on the stage. It is only through such interactions that Hamm can confirm his existence and give his life any semblance of meaning.
This production was one of the ‘must-see’ STC events of the year, although tickets were scarce and in high demand. Nevertheless, if you did manage to steal, haggle for or happen upon a golden ticket, the experience will have been one to remember. Not for the faint of heart (or mind) this production made you question life, meaning and even your very existence. However, it wasn’t all seriousness and sorrow, there was room for a cheeky chuckle – after all, 'nothing is funnier than unhappiness'.