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'Endgame' by Samuel Beckett
Last uploaded : Thursday 2nd Apr 2009 at 01:36
Contributed by : Carol Gould


'ENDGAME' by Samuel Beckett at the Cockpit Theatre
presented by the Godot Company

Depending on one’s political leanings Samuel Beckett’s rarely-performed ‘Endgame,’ written some fifty-two years ago, is a bleak window on a world devoid of most everything, even coffins and live dogs.

Watching this play unfold over one-hundred minutes without an interval those with leanings to the Right could easily interpret the scenario as the nuclear winter after a dirty-bomb attack by al Qaeda, Hezbollah or Hamas. Were one an Israeli, where during the years of the al-Aqsa Intifadah calendars had ‘9/11’ on each page, one could imagine the scene as an Israeli town about to die after a biological attack from friendly Mr Assad in the North.

If one is of the leanings to the Left, as was playwright Beckett, the story is one of despair in the wake of global catastrophe in the guise of fascism, global warming, genocide and world war. He always resisted the notion that the text was a post-nuclear-holocaust screed. In turn many reject the term ‘theatre of the absurd’ used to describe the Beckett repertoire because the characters do so compellingly resemble those in our own lives. The play unfolds in a room in which wheelchair-bound and visually impaired Hamm torments his minder Clov. Hamm cannot stand and Clov cannot sit. Hamm cannot push himself in his own wheelchair but a perpetually put-upon and diminutive Clov wheels the large-framed invalid about with excruciating effort. Periodically a stuffed dog is thrown into Hamm’s lap by Clov but always ends up thrown to the floor. Hamm wants to urinate but Clov is not inclined to fetch the catheter. Looking out at the world from a window, holding a telescope, Clov reports a grim tableau.

In this world, there is a rat in the kitchen and
inside two barrels are Hamm’s legless parents, Nagg and Nell. Sadly, at the performance I attended an audience member with an unfortunate coughing fit decided to exit the theatre as the legendary line ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness’ was being recited by Nell. Afterwards the actress playing Nell, Colette Kelly, said she had pondered holding the line back but let it come. This was not the end of the world -- though the play is about just that -- and the story continued through the death of Nell and the slow demise of the planet. To me one of the most poignant lines, bringing images of the Nazi Holocaust to mind, is uttered by Clov as he looks into the barrel containing a weeping Nagg: if he is crying, ‘Then he’s living.’

What makes Beckett accessible is the use of the commonplace : Nell and Nagg, for example, reminisce about past outings in the Ardennes and literally nag each other in perpetuity.

The genius of Beckett is that he inspires audiences to argue long after the final curtain; after the first-night performance a discussion in the Cockpit Theatre led by the legendary publisher-producer John Calder generated imagery of the apocalypse in this week in which the G20 nations meet in a turbulent London.

Having toured Ireland with a rich response this is a superb production with fine performances from Peter Pacey as Hamm, Henry Woolf as Clov, the aforementioned Colette Kelly as Nell and Royston Kean as Nagg.

Highly recommended. It runs until Saturday 4th April and includes a matinee on Saturday.

Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street London NW8
Box Office 0207 258 2920


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