Old Vic Theatre, London – until 28 March 2020
I know when Alan Cumming was talking about crossing his character’s ‘wasted’ legs on the Graham Norton Show a few weeks ago it was a joke but there was a small part of me that was waiting for it to happen when I went to see Endgame.
There is humour in Beckett’s play about master and servant locked in an endless routine of acid dialogue and ‘activity’, some of it physical some of it in the words. But this isn’t a roll-around in the aisles funny comedy. It’s a Beckett play after all. It’s like an abstract, absurd Chekhov play about people who can see the escape route to their problems but can’t seem to follow it. There’s an inevitability but Endgame’s narrative is circular rather than linear.
Hamm (Cumming) and Clov (Daniel Radcliffe) are opposites (who attract?) and it is something that is particularly apparent in this production. The former is blind and those wasted legs leave him confined to a wheelchair or rather a chair on casters. Cumming gives Hamm an elegant, graceful air, with affected, sweeping gestures and even a way of slumping that has something refined about it. It contrasts with the barbed language and constant demands he makes.
Clov, on the other hand, moves with a jerky, rigid, painful purpose, walking in straight lines, turning at right angles in an exacerbated manner. He has a particular way with ascending and descending ladders; the way he moves becomes a motif.
Hamm’s parents (Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson) live in silver wheelie bins and pop up from time to time. They inject the tenderness into the play, being so gentle, befuddled and abused.
In fact, Horrocks appears for only a very short period and yet manages to leave the essence of her character hanging over the rest of the play. There is an air of futility in Hamm and Clov’s daily existence. Stuck in an endless cycle of living with only the brief respite of retelling old stories, although even these have an element of repetition. You have to search the dialogue for an explanation of Clov’s inability to leave, despite his constant threats to do so.
Is it fear of the unknown – the world outside is painted as grey – or merely part a routine in which he finds comfort?
There was a woman sat in front of me who was bored to restlessness and Beckett isn’t going to be for everyone.
While Radcliffe works the physical humour as much as possible, it is Cumming who you are drawn to but neither you feel particularly sad to leave behind.
Stuffed dogs and ladders
It is stuffed dogs, ladders and individual performances which stay with me rather than anything more philosophical about the human condition.
Endgame is being performed with another short play of Beckett’s – Rough For Theatre II – and the two combined are approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes although I imagine this may tighten up a little with more performances.
I’m giving Endgame ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ mainly for the performances rather than the play.
It is at the Old Vic until 28 March.
You might also like to read…
…Some more Daniel Radcliffe/theatre themed stuff:
Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Old Vic.
Review: The Cripple of Inishmaan, Noel Coward Theatre.
How Daniel Radcliffe reignited my love of theatre.
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