“Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.” Not, the words you generally expect to hear at the start of a play, but arguably the first proof of the dark, gallows humour which Samuel Beckett’s “a play in one act” provides – although it’s fair to say that on the occasion Chris Gascoyne, as the put-upon servant Clov, has already engendered quite a few laughs before he first speaks, thanks to his unbalanced, heavy-footed lumbering across the stage, and his gratuitously repetitive use of a stepladder to reach and pull back the curtains from the small windows above the action.
Beckett’s Endgame is by no means an easy night out, but this production benefits from an excellent cast
Nearly 60 years after its first performance, Citizens Theatre artistic director Dominic Hill successfully shows that Samuel Beckett Endgame is as fresh and disturbing as ever; and, arguably, the most condensed situation comedy ever written – concentrated Steptoe and Son, just add water. Its four characters – Clov, his disabled “master” Hamm, and Hamm’s two elderly parents Nagg and Nell, who live their lives in two dustbins – are all trapped: physically, symbolically, emotionally, and even in what they say. Repetitions of actions or phrases are often what brings comfort and pleasure in most situation comedies – not least through an audience’s anticipation of them. Nevertheless, while quickly established by Beckett, the repetitions here prove a dry pleasure at best; as dry as the dust that falls, on cue, from the roof of Tom Piper’s grey-blue set, a near empty room worn down by time and the elements.
Beckett’s Endgame is by no means an easy night out, but this production benefits from an excellent cast: David Neilson (on sabbatical from Coronation Street) is strong and hard as Hamm, a man whose sense of entitlement cuts like a knife. Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty, meantime, provide an all-too-brief double-act as the bin-bound Nagg and Nell, wringing the humour from their time on stage and yet not losing the sadness of their being lost in a present from which death would appear the only escape. And the shaven-headed Chris Gascoyne, of course, excels as Clov, owning the stage as he alone clunks around it, on occasions his glare challenging the audience through that supposed fourth wall.
At one point Nell accepts that “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” and its fair to say that this production isn’t afraid to make us laugh, not least through some unscripted play with Hamm’s three-legged toy dog. But perhaps the biggest laugh, and the most hurtful, comes when Clov asks what keeps him there. “The dialogue,” Hamm replies.