In chess, endgame refers to the point in the game when there are only a few pieces left on the board, yet still the game lingers on in a state of uncertainty. Similarly Beckett’s surreal play places the characters in this unfortunate state, almost alone, almost at the end, but the timing of their fate still lies undetermined.
Set in a world where, beyond the two small windows in a cold, dark and almost empty room, there is no sun, no movement and the sea has long forgotten to follow tidal movements, Hamm, the blind and disabled master of the house, and Clov, his almost blind and almost disabled servant, are trapped in groundhog day combining arguments and mundane routine. Two dustbins, as dirty and grey as the rest of the environment, house Hamm’s parents Nell and Nagg.
Hamm, who flits from acting like a playful child to a spiteful and violently angry aged man in seconds, sits in the centre of the room in his wheelchair, legs lying lamely beneath him, looking the very picture of faded glamour. In contrast, Clov, whose legs prevent him from ever sitting down, blends into the greying bricks, dirty and weathered by the seemingly apocalyptic surroundings. Trapped together in this repetitive hell, they both express desire to leave or to be free from one another, but the last gasps of humanity seem to prevent this.
Whilst Endgame is certainly bleak and frustrating in its claustrophobic premise, put in the extremely capable hands of Simon McBurney and Mark Rylance, Beckett’s dry humour and poetic language burns brightly through the dark context. Rylance plays Hamm with an edge of campness and fragility that softens the character’s selfish and demanding nature, and McBurney makes Clov a depressive whose actions are taken through sheer habit rather than choice. Miriam Margolyes and Tom Hickey as the downtrodden parents are both at once touching and slightly sickening.
Produced by Complicite and directed by Artistic Director McBurney, fans of the company should not expect their usual elaborate staging and multimedia technology, instead relying on a simple set and few props. But the magic of Complicite is still present with the orange glowing windows and almost gothic set the perfect staging for Beckett’s celebrated masterpiece.