Irish playwright and poet, Samuel Beckett, definitely did not embrace traditional style and conventions when he created his worlds, or rather, his own distinct form of limbo. In Endgame, currently on stage at the Baxter Theatre, this limbo takes the form of intertwined beginnings and endings.
Deceptively simplistic, the scene is set for the exploration of hopelessness in a post-apocalyptic echo —a brief, dreary tableau greets you when you enter the theatre. Clov, the Servant who cannot sit, presents Hamm, the Master who cannot stand or see, along with Hamm’s trash-can confined parents, Nell and Nagg.
Seeing Rob van Vuuren (Clov) and Andrew Buckland (Hamm) do their farce-dance as they banter away about the state of their purgatory and their dependency on one another —each with a difference of opinion as to whether hell is inside or outside, but nevertheless in implied agreement that they are trapped by it— is a sublime theatre experience. You can almost see an energy ball bounce from the one to the other as they play their character-reactions off one another. Their impressively paced sombrely-funny wordplay is only interrupted by short cadences in the form of vehement monologues by Antionette Kellerman and Soli Philander (Nell and Nagg, respectively) as the personifications of deteriorating lives and fading memories ‘living’ off base needs and wants.
It's all very intense, and one gets the feeling that the comedy moments embedded in the text, so skillfully performed by this stellar cast, is carefully placed and timed to bring some reprieve from the insanity of it all. The delicate and perilously funny moments are there to keep the heart-breaking 'reality' you are called upon to witness from becoming an overwhelming sense of tragedy.
As Beckett chose to place his focus on the development of (arguably pessimistic) ideas, instead of plot and distinct characters, there is no clear antagonist or protagonist in Endgame. Here you will merely find a collection of twisted, tragic, and impoverished images as characters —all of them suffering in various yet relatable degrees, because of either their physical conditions or undesirable lifestyles. Watching their interactions loop within the trap of their circumstances is equatable to watching a never-ending chess game between Life and Death, with the audience left to decide for themselves with which potential victor salvation lies.
Sylvaine Strike’s direction of this classic (supported by the appropriately stark set design of Patrick Curtis and arresting costume design of Birrie le Roux) effectively captures the essence of anxiety that is associated with Beckett’s use of character.
So, if a clear storyline and character development is a necessity to keep you captivated, then perhaps Beckett and his Endgame won’t be the theatre experience for you. However, if you are open to the idea that characters can be used as idea-catalysts, then you are in for an insane (and I really mean insane) treat.
Even if such a treat is just your thing, you're probably reading this and still wondering what to expect. Given Becket’s proclivity for the absurd, capturing the essence of the ‘story’ that is Endgame without giving the impact of the experience away is no easy task. If one had to give this 1957 absurdist play a contemporary breakdown, perhaps this would be it:
Clov is an earlier version of Dobby from Harry Potter, while Hamm is the personification of Ally McBeal’s paraphrased life motto that his problems are bigger than anyone else’s simply because they are just that, his problems. Both of them fear something that is perhaps comparable to the Neverending Story’s the Nothing. As far as the meaning of life (or survival) found in the trash-can-reality of Nagg and Nell? Here Buffy the Vampire Slayer says it best: ‘Gee, can you vague that up for me?’ And, while all this of this get mixed into one bizarrely captivating tragedy, it would be appropriate for UB40s ‘Rat in mi Kitchen’ to play on repeat in the background.
Absurd right?! In a peculiar way though, all the Endgame-elements —and specifically the elements as presented in this staging of Endgame at the Baxter Theatre— work together to leave a memorable impact of the demoralising power of hopelessness. Book your tickets through Webtickets to see this intriguing play before its run ends on 1 September 2018.