Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Something is already taking its course before Pan Pan's new production of Endgame begins. As you take your seats for Samuel Beckett's mordant depiction of hell on earth, its dialogue and stage directions are being quietly recited by a soft, brisk, synthetic voice, offering little in the way of individual interpretation. This, you suspect, is how Beckett would have liked it.
Is it how Pan Pan, Ireland's foremost experimental theatre company, would like it, though? Since 2011 its founders, the director Gavin Quinn and the designer Aedín Cosgrove, have explored a new seam in Beckettian performance, transposing Beckett's radio work to a theatrical setting (once the ultimate Beckettian no-no). Staging one of his stage plays seems like a much more restrictive proposition for such a searching company, as though burying their creativity up to the neck in sand, or wedged into a dustbin.
There are, as Aedin Cosgrove’s set recognises, still many ways to imagine an empty room with two windows. Her walls are a patchwork of wooden slats, some scuffed and painted, as though reclaimed from other sets (perhaps other Endgames). The windows are rough-cut squares, covered by clear plastic sheets, and daubed with paint to differentiate their views of the sea (“lead”) or the earth (“zero”).
Here Clov (Anthony Morris), the stiff servant, and Hamm (Andrew Bennett), the irascible tyrant, perform their bitter double act, while Hamm’s parents (“accursed progenitor!”) linger nearby in dustbins.
If that recorded voice and this mostly faithful staging suggest that performing Endgame is like running a program, Quinn, who directs, and Cosgrove, who has designed the lighting, emphasise something more clinical: Hamm’s chair, for instance, is closer to a wheelchair than an armchair, while Cosgrove’s lights, more stark white than grey, have a deliberate harshness, all the better to see this production’s small deviations. Bennett’s rugged Hamm, for instance, is no longer so blood spattered, his sunglasses now a straight visor, while Morris’s stilted Clov, with his boyish hair, lined face and tank top, suggests a decrepit soul in younger style.
It is a sound decision to have Rosaleen Linehan and Des Keogh play Nell and Nagg, providing a strangely moving rapport of strained tenderness ("What is it, my pet?" asks Linehan, responding to a knock on her lid. "Time for love?"). But, given they played these roles before, for the Gate in 2010, the casting is not this production's own idea. "We're not beginning to… to… mean something?" Hamm famously asks Clov, in horror; against recycled material of the stagecraft, you wonder the same of Nell and Nagg's return.
“The end is in the beginning and yet you go on,” decides Hamm, in neat summary of the Beckettian world view. In these grim days, where our own extinction is an urgent consideration, that is a common attitude. Perhaps that’s why Pan Pan has not so much revivified Endgame as submitted to it. In its grim depiction of entropy and finality, what is there left to interpret?
Runs at Project Arts Centre until Saturday