Endgame | Melbourne Theatre CompanyLeft – Julie Forsyth and Rhys McConnochie. Cover – Luke Mullins and Colin Friels. Photos – Jeff Busby

The MTC production of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist one act play, Endgame, brings us into a confined world of grey concrete, like a prison, a bunker with high windows, a dungeon. It could be the inside of an air-raid shelter, a setting the play’s first European audiences would have known well (set design is by Callum Morton). Those early audiences attended productions of Endgame and Waiting for Godot with the fear of nuclear annihilation informing their experiences. We have an end-of-the-planet scenario of our own to bring to the work. It’s not hard to ‘get in the mood’ for Endgame, as relevant now as when it was first written; a timeless portrayal of futility, of waste, of power struggle and desecration. Or you can see it as a psychic personal hell; it’s up to you. Beckett famously refused to elucidate, although he did say that the two main characters, Hamm and Clov, were Didi and Gogo from Waiting for Godot at a later stage in their lives. He also said it was about himself and his partner at the time. The dynamics of a co-dependent intimate relationship were never better portrayed, except by Beckett himself in his earlier play.

Colin Friels plays Hamm, master of his small dismal domain, with superb awareness of his power, and of his ambivalence and sense of futility in wielding it. His voice is splendid in range and resonance; he fairly broils with rage and frustration consuming itself. Luke Mullins gives us a Clov so clearly in physical discomfort, with his stiffening frame and failing sight, that you feel it. Yet you see him pushing himself on regardless so he continues, at least, to feel something. In this version of Endgame there’s an undercurrent of a homosexual relationship between Hamm and Clov, weirdly most pronounced when Hamm describes Clov as ‘my son.’ Julie Forsyth as Nell is her singular self; she’s a terrific actor and the pathos she brings to Nell is moving. Seeing those little fingers appear under the lid of her rubbish bin is quite a moment. Unfortunately, Beckett dispatches his only female character quite early on so we don’t get much of her. Rhys McConnochie as Nagg is equally impressive. The decline of these two is sad – you sense the still living affection between them.

Direction is by Sam Strong, who puts the audience through a visceral sense of life decaying all around, yet allows the wit, and what vivacity there is in the play, come to the foreground. You’re never let off the hook in this piece, the text tells you often how you, as an audience member, are a co-creator of the story, and Strong is clearly reveling in this aspect.

Producers of Beckett are bound by strictures rigorously upheld by the Beckett Estate, which insists his plays are staged according to the playwright’s precise instructions. If you’re familiar with Endgame you'll have the pleasure of concentrating on performance and direction since most of everything else will be known to you. If you haven’t already seen a production, please go to this one. It’s moving and memorable, and a fine introduction to a master of western theatre.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by Samuel Beckett

Director Sam Strong

Venue: Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
Dates:  21 March – 25 April 2015
Tickets: from $73; Under 30s $36
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au

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