Blue Raincoat Theatre Company finds room to manoeuvre in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Endgame’
The Factory Performance Space, Sligo
Hamm’s great nightmare, shared with his servant, Clov, has become true: they’re beginning to mean something. Given how opaque Samuel Beckett makes their circumstances, and how litigiously his stage directions have been enforced, bringing any additional comment to the play is no small order.
Confined to a bare home where the time is “the same as usual”, the weather is no different, and all that can be seen through its high windows is “zero”, Hamm and Clov are imprisoned in a grimly comic double act, chuckling over the riddle of existence, signifying everything and nothing. “The end is at the beginning and yet you go on.” For an accomplished physical theatre company such as Blue Raincoat, that doesn’t leave much room to manoeuvre.
In recent years, though, the company has unravelled the linguistic games and cerebral puzzles of Flann O’Brien and Eugène Ionesco. Beckett seems like a natural progression. There’s something perverse, though, about confining a spry ensemble to Hamm’s armchair on castors, Clov’s arthritic rigidity or, famously, the dustbins where Hamm’s parents reside. Can Blue Raincoat escape?
The answer of director Niall Henry ’s dutiful production is not to resist Beckett’s commands, but to cleverly emphasise them. Like Deborah Warner ’s recent production of Happy Days, which turned Winnie’s confining earth mound into a vast scorched landscape, this production contains some timely embellishments. The dustbins are now green and corroded oil drums, and although that has been done before, here it suggests environmental catastrophe without labouring any blunt political point.
The most resonant note here is more subtle and salient: the pathological nature of debt and servitude. “What is there to keep me here?” asks an excellent John Carty, who is as curiously blue-faced as a Smurf, but more identifiable to anybody asking similar questions of their country.
Hamm’s answer – “The dialogue” – may be a barbed joke, but it is the point of the play and, unfortunately, the weakest part of the production. With Beckett, words are often the only reason to “go on” while characters inscribe their existence on an unforgiving earth through constantly repeated routines and stories. “I never told it worse,” Peter Davey ’s Nagg says of his shaggy dog story for Sandra O’Malley’s endearing Nell, yet there’s little pleasure in speech anywhere here. Ciarán McCauley, concealed behind a beard, caked-on red make-up and dark glasses, has the toughest challenge, called to perform for slalom-pole switches between normal and affected voices, a modulation that barely registers. In Beckett’s sly chess metaphor, though, Hamm is as confined and vulnerable as a king and Blue Raincoat let us find the meaning in his predicament.
The game, we know, may be stalemate, but they’ll go on.