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
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
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.
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
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.'
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
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
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
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.
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