Image courtesy of Phoebe Campbell-Harris.
Not everyone enjoys Beckett, and for a student theatre group to put on a play like Endgame is always ambitious. The comic success of Beckett’s dark humour very much comes down to the way the script is performed. The production, by the Edinburgh University Theatre Company (EUTC), managed to remain true to the original play, and it was overall, a performance with no frills.
Innovation in theatre, particularly with plays that have been performed thousands of times, is welcomed by many. However, it is hard to think of a way that Endgame could have been modernised or altered, without losing its characterising feeling of nihilism and grinding despair. Finlay McAfee’s direction is understated and allows the audience to appreciate the complex relationships between the characters.
Endgame opens with Clov uncovering a chair and two bins from their dust sheets. Sarah Brown’s set of minimalistic props and cold lighting conveys a sense of bleakness before any words had been spoken. The EUTC production of Endgame captured Beckett’s sense of absurdism. The cyclical conversations between Hamm and Clov (‘I feel a little too far to the left.’ ‘Now feel a little too far to the right.’) gave the audience a sense of a problem that will never be resolved, if the root of the problem can be found at all.
This black humour, its lines always served with a nihilistic twist, was delivered brilliantly by Thomas Noble, who played Hamm. Noble’s impeccable sense of timing, combined with his ironic demeanor and the dry, absurdist script, ensured the play’s comic success with the audience.
Clov, played by Michael Hajiantonis, acted as a physical manifestation of the play’s sense of cyclical despair. Limping around the room, Clov spoke in response to Hamm, and appeared at the piercing sound of his whistle, almost reminiscent of the fake three-legged dog. Hajiantonis succeeded in conveying the sense of monotony and emptiness that characterised the play, through the tired, frustrated delivery of his answers to Hamm’s absurd questions and demands.
Nagg and Nell, played by Jennifer Jones and Antonia Weir respectively, provided a back-and-forth that gave the performance a feeling of world-weariness. Jones in particular, through her understated acting, was most convincing.
The characters, tied to each other by their disabilities, go nowhere. Beckett’s post-apocalyptic world is stained with a sense of recurrent misery and a resounding lack of reason. The ‘chair-rides’ capture this; Clov drags Hamm’s armchair around the same four walls of the bare room as a form of entertainment, though always finding himself back at the centre of the room.
The production left the audience laughing at the lack of sense and rational progress. This was ultimately owing to the characters’ constant despair as a result of being stranded in such a stagnant, bare room. After all – ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that!’