A tragicomic masterpiece, but… sometimes seen as a ‘difficult’ and alienating play. I couldn’t have put it better than the programme notes in issuing a guarded recommendation of this valiant production of Beckett’s Endgame at Manchester’s Home theatre.
Better known is, of course, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. And like Rozencrantz and Guildenstern in that play, the characters here are very much ‘waiting’, stuck going nowhere.
Hamm is blind and wheelchair-bound; his Igor-like servant, Clov, circles the stage, looking out of smeared windows, unable to escape; and Hamm’s parents, Nell and Nagg, live (in true absurdist form) in a pair of dustbins at the side of the stage, which they pop in and out of like corpse-like, bepowdered versions of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men.
Everything in this production is peeling, rusting, rotting – from the oxidised blue walls to patches of blood on Clov and Hamm where bits of them seem to have crumbled off, to the dust-covered hair of Nell and Nagg. The light is ‘grey’. The world outside is ‘zero’. We start with Clov crawling onstage and uncovering each actor from beneath bloodstained shrouds; we end with him in a hat and coat like an undertaker, staring down at the isolated, lonely Hamm.
Pretentious? Unless you’re a convicted Beckettite, then yes.
But the performances are excellent, and that does keep this production going. In something of a departure from his Coronation Street roots, David Neilson (aka Roy Cropper) is an excellent Hamm – rude, callous, and with just a hint of camp that oddly works. His Corrie co-star Chris Gascoyne (who plays Peter Barlow) has wit sparkling through his sneers and groans as he stomps heavily across the stage as Clov.
Peter Kelly was perhaps my favourite of all as the endearingly pathetic Nagg, with Barbara Rafferty as his tragic wife Nell.
Endgame is hard work. But with a cast that never lose their focus, it’s definitely possible to taste the hints of comic brilliance that bubble through Beckett’s existentialist fog.