by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Sissy Borchert
Brian Friel Theatre, Belfast
To the casual, sceptical observer, the plays of Samuel Beckett can appear to be depressing and obscure and a bad production of Endgame can leave its audience repeating the hapless Clov’s plaintive plea, ‘it must be nearly finished’ but Sissy Borchert’s production captures all the dark beauty and black humour of Beckett’s one act masterpiece.
Taking its name from the final stages of a chess game, Beckett’s Endgame depicts the emptiness of existence, the absurdity of human language, the monotony of daily rituals and the pain of waiting to die between one room and 4 characters. For Beckett, the last pieces of his ‘endgame’ are the blind, immobile Hamm (Colm Doran), sitting in the middle of the room in his wheeled armchair barking out orders while dabbing away at his bleeding eyes and wiping his useless glasses. His elderly parents, Nagg (Sarah McDonald) and Nell (Dearvla Gorman), sit side by side in dustbins; unable to move enough to just kiss one another and Clov (Terry McCartan), who miserably shuffles to and fro, begrudgingly following the commands of Hamm. In true Beckett form, Endgame is a play without a point, but the dialogue and the characters are so rich that it never gets stale or boring. Hailed as ‘the master of repetition with the ability to make the mundane interesting’, Beckett lures his audience into a false sense of security and just when the characters might be making a bit of progress, the action stops and circles back and the absurdity continues. Endgame examines the relationship between arriving and departing, beginning and finishing, living and dying and unlike Beckett’s earlier work, Waiting for Godot, the audience does not anticipate an arrival of some mysterious character, but rather waits for a character’s departure—namely, the death of Hamm and the departure of Clov.
Colm Doran commands the stage as Hamm, not an easy task when the character doesn’t move throughout the entire 70 minutes. There is a strong and palpable chemistry between Dearvla Gorman and Sarah McDonald and the two are well-synced in their confined acting space with their sparse dialogue and numerous pauses. Watching McCartan move about the stage, re-arranging a short step ladder so that he can peer out through the windows into one of two views of oblivion and report on it to Hamm, is slapstick brilliance but at times he’s guilty of over action and his actions feel forced and over staged. Susie Magill’s ash-grey set which hints at the dead landscape beyond and the monochrome checkerboard floor are both excellent and Kat Kirk’s costumes are some of the best you’ll see on the stage this year.