Endgame – Project Arts Centre – Review
by P McGovern
Until 7th December 2019
Photos by Ros Kavanagh
“This is not much fun” says Andrew Bennett’s Hamm early in Gavin Quinn’s production of Beckett’s Endgame at the Project Arts Theatre. No, it isn’t; it is a journey into the very heart of darkness, as Beckett intended. Written in the mid nineteen-fifties, following the loss of his much-loved brother, and barely ten years after the end of WWll in which he witnessed the appalling evil of ‘civilised men’, along with the newly-acquired capacity for mass annihilation, as shown in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, his play has little room for levity.
Setting the tone of his production, Quinn has a recording of the play script – character identification, pauses and moves – playing as the audience enter, continuing until curtain up. Perhaps he is hinting at the Beckett estate’s notorious insistence on his work being produced “by the book”, but it’s a device that certainly helps to focus minds.
Aedin Cosgrove’s set has reduced the world to a single, stark, claustrophobic room, disorienting to look at, with an unseen kitchen offstage. Walls are reinforced with odd irregular-shaped planks and hoardings. Outside, the world is “full of corpses”. A rat and a flea are unhelpful intruders in the bunker-like space, otherwise inhabited by Hamm, a blind, manipulative tyrant, who cannot stand; his slave attendant, Clov, who cannot sit (and may be Hamm’s son) and Hamm’s parents, Nagg and Nell, who presumably can do neither, having lost their “shanks” in a road accident and now reside in their respective dustbins. The symbols are piling up.
Hamm barks his orders, ruling with a mixture of threats and entreaties. As Clov, Anthony Morris is long past feeling or caring. All passion spent, he responds for the most part as an automaton, just occasionally showing remnants of human responses such as anger and defiance. He realises that when he refuses to obey, Hamm is powerless. Between them they create an unnerving dynamic, evoking mankind at the very limits of endurance and existence.
Where Waiting For Godot and Happy Days have frequent flashes of warmth, engagement and affection, Endgame is almost relentlessly nihilistic. Almost, but not quite. Des Keogh and Rosaleen Linehan as Nagg and Nell, lift the lid, literally, on the pervasive gloom and inject a vague glimmer of life and love. Limited, distorted and frustrated, yes, but there nonetheless – and utterly unforgettable. As Hamm’s ‘cursed progenitor’, Des Keogh’s timing and delivery are impeccable, getting full rein in his story of the English man and his suit. Linehan’s Nell reminds us of her magnificent Winnie in Happy Days, directed by Karel Reisz (who understood Beckett’s dark vision more than most, having lost both parents in Auschwitz). Her “ah, yesterday…”, repeated, is a masterclass in nuanced acting, facial expression and vocal colouring mining every level of compressed meaning, the tender glow of happy reminiscence, regret at the passing of time and the bleak prospect of there being any tomorrow.
Director Quinn’s decision to dispense with the convention of a curtain call at the end is in keeping with the unremittingly sombre focus of his production. However, one senses that the audience wouldn’t half mind if Linehan were to spring out and launch into her revue hit about what to do when “life is filled with sorrow and with gloom”. Of course, Mr. Beckett might not approve of her advice: “soap your arse and slide backways up a rainbow”. Then again, he just might…
Directed by Gavin Quinn
Designed by Aedin Cosgrove
Cast: Andrew Bennett, Des Keogh, Rosaleen Linehan and Antony Morris
Dramaturg: Nicholas Johnson