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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Albery Theatre      Spring 2004

Recognised as one of Samuel Beckett's masterpieces, Endgame is perhaps the most difficult and is less frequently revived than Waiting for Godot or Happy Days.

So this opportunity to see it, in the hands of one of our best young directors and a masterful cast, should not be missed.

This is the one about the blind old man and his lame servant who dislike each other but are tied by some kind of emotional as well as practical bonds, who find life deeply unpleasant but have no alternative to bearing it, and whose existence is driven by the sense that everything is in some way moving toward an ending.

Not light entertainment, by any means, and while there is a lot of visual and verbal comedy in the play, the overall tone is dark and the philosophical/metaphysical going pretty heavy at times.

I watched this revival with a very bright seventeen-year-old young woman, who said at the end that there were whole chunks of the play that she did not understand at all, and whole other chunks that excited and moved her. I reassured her that that was exactly the same experience everyone else has.

In a way, the play is pure subtext, with all the comforts and protections of ordinary life stripped away.

Many people unfeelingly discard their aged parents, but Beckett's central character literally consigns his to rubbish bins. Many people experience life as defined by pain, but only Beckett would write this exchange, its innocent surface meaning suddenly giving way to a chilling vision of despair - 'What's he doing?' - 'He's weeping.' - 'Then he's alive.'

The play is full of single lines and exchanges that catch you up short with their encapsulation of emotions we rarely face openly: 'Why this farce day after day?' - 'Routine.' Or 'We do what we can.' -'We shouldn't.' Or 'Why do you stay?' - 'There's nowhere else.'

If you recognise and respond to lines like that as pure Beckett, you will want to see this. And if I tell you that the central roles are played by Michael Gambon, surely the finest actor of his generation, and Lee Evans, one of the most inventive clowns of his, then you should want to run, not walk to see it.

Stuck in a chair, with his supposedly blind eyes covered by glasses, Gambon uses his voice in ways I've never heard him before, playing with pitch, tone and volume with the artistry of a butch Gielgud, while Evans uses all his skills as a physical comedian to inventive and resonant effect.

As the parents in the ashcans Geoffrey Hutchings and Liz Smith are droller than I've ever seen those characters before, while sustaining the undertone of sadness beneath the comedy

Matthew Warchus has directed with a stress on the text's opportunity for humour, sustaining the balance of comic and serious better than any other production I've seen, though one running gag involving Lee Evans and a ladder is milked right up to, and perhaps past its limits.

A great play. Two brilliant performances at its centre and two solid supporting performances. This isn't a show for the legendary tired businessman looking for unchallenging diversion.  But others will kick themselves if they are foolish enough to miss it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Endgame - Albery Theatre 2004

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