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Rough for Theatre II and Endgame

by on 10 February 2020

Razor-Edged Exhilarating Bleakness

Rough for Theatre II and Endgame

by Samuel Beckett

Old Vic Baylis Company at the Old Vic Theatre, Waterloo until 8th March

Review by Heather Moulson

I was so glad to get to the Old Vic to see a revival of these two Beckett productions of Rough for Theatre II and Endgame, the former being rarely seen.

We open up to a very stark, albeit short, first play with Daniel Radcliffe, as “A”, and Alan Cumming, as “B”, sitting desk to desk in semi-darkness; a simple and strikingly clever set, but not unassuming. A large window frame is a focal point, where there is a silhouette of a man about to jump from a great height. A and B relish the painful aftermath of this suicide … but perhaps he had already fallen to his death. Or was he hung in suspension and the duo had to assess the situation?

A disturbing tableau, with mean and grudging lamplight, the two bureaucrats look over the potential suicide’s files, with detachment and bleak black humour. Plus A goes over to the victim twice, (wiping a tear?) dangerously hanging outside the window himself. There are some genuinely funny and profound lines about the human condition.

At the interval, you realised how tense you had actually been.

Daniel Radcliffe excelled himself as the bleak administrator, however I felt he was miscast in the second play, Endgame. Playing Clov, the lame and twisted valet to Alun Cummings’ Hamm, an invalid blind man, did not seem a comfortable role. However, that did not mean Clove didn’t produce some genuinely comical and unique moments.

The second set was subtle and innocent enough. This, however, was deceptive and not entirely straight forward. Menacing actor’s shadows appeared on the light wall, uncovering the true malevolence underneath.

Beckett’s macabre style shone through this hopelessness, making us work to unravel the situation. Richard Jones’ razor sharp and detailed direction peaks at this point.

The immobile Hamm sits in a chair centre stage, whose whims Clove grudgingly attends to. They share a grim rapport, and tangible pessimism. At will, the two wheelie-bins situated at the foot of the stage are opened. The excellent Karl Johnson is revealed as Hamm’s father, Nagg, followed by the vibrant Jane Horrocks as the mother, Nell.

Symbolic of an old people’s home? Where they can be visited at will? Or killed off? Overtones of old people treated like rubbish? Judging by Hamm’s neglect and disregard, this could well be the case.

From then on, the point, if one ever exists in Theatre of the Absurd, started to feel laboured.

However, the play’s title, Endgame, solves some clues for us, its very meaning being a particular outcome in a game of chess. At the least, it highlights the play’s pessimism and our general doom. We are already aware of the outcome.

Or does Endgame symbolise the end of the world as we know it? Are these characters survivors of a nuclear disaster? You can’t say they’re not grim!

One left the theatre, after just over two hours and fifteen minutes, in a trance of exhilarating bleakness.

Don’t let this one get away.

Heather Moulson
February 2020

Photography by Manuel Harlan

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