Writer: Samuel Beckett
Director: Dominic Hill
Reviewer: R G Balgray
Endgame, Beckett’s one act foray into those thoughts and moments before the final darkness, is seen by many as one of his masterpieces. It’s therefore given a suitably reverential treatment in the Citizens/HOME co-production at Glasgow Citizens Theatre; and a respectful, full house will have gone home satisfied that they understand Beckett a little better.
But to begin at the beginning. A backdrop – an idyllic, 30s-style beach scene, after the style of those nostalgic railways posters – rises, to uncover the play’s single set: an empty, dirty, derelict room. It has only two small, high windows, reached only by steps, and is furnished by what seems like post-apocalyptic detritus, including two dustbins. In the centre, on casters, a single chair, on which sits Hamm, blind and chair-ridden, his face covered by a bloody rag. His only company his irascible, crippled servant Clov – and, in the dustbins, his aged parents, Nagg and Nell. So far, so Beckett. The 90 following minutes chart all that is left to him, and them.
As you might expect, death stalks the room, but eloquently so. Hamm, whose light has already died, has his moments of rage, but mostly, as “Something is taking its course”, he complains about the minutiae – not so much raging against the dying of the light, but tetching about it, perhaps. In turn, querulous, high-handed, childish, vindictive, often pathetic, sometimes Shakespearian, David Neilson’s turn as Hamm is a tour-de-force, seemingly in search of a soliloquy, but falling instead into infantilism. As Clov, Chris Gascoyne is lugubrious, Caliban-like, put-upon, and a different kind of pathetic, but gets most of the laughs through his slapstick schtick, extracting much of the absurd available here. Their two-hander is most of the play, but Barbara Rafferty and Peter Kelly, both Citizens stalwarts, amply show just how much further into the dustbins essential humanity can sink.
So, amid such bleakness, is reward to be found? Well, yes. This production is certainly true to Beckett’s wishes (he once sued a theatre company for interfering with his highly-specific set instructions), and certainly captures much of his essence. Whether in Nagg and Nell’s cackling against mortality or in Neilson and Gascoyne – both better known to soap students, both completely credible as denizens of Beckett world – managing to invest the inevitable ending with humanity and poignancy, the show faces down the unthinkable. After all, as one of them nearly says, what are we here for? – Why, the dialogue.
Runs until 20 February 2016 | Image: Tim Morozzo