Though there certainly is an amount of sadness and death in Endgame. It is set in a decaying world, with four characters, all in various states of dishevelment and ruin. It takes place in a small, shabby room with two high windows looking out on to the Earth and to the sea. Ham is the central character, literally, as he sits in his wheelchair in the centre of the room for the majority of the play, and he is joined by his servant, Clov, and his parents, Nel and Nagg, who live in dustbins or oil drums set on the front of the stage.
It is also a profoundly aimless, futile world, a world where almost nothing happens. "What time is it?", asks
. "Same as always," says Clov,
"Zero." A universe where it is always zero o'clock, somewhere where
progress is impossible, where nothing moves forward. And yet they joke about
it, and talk about it, and moan about it, and look back and look forward, and
Clov debates with himself whether he is going to leave or not, and Hamm just
wants it all to end. It may be futile and decaying, but it is lyrical and funny
and moving as well. Hamm
In the production I saw, by the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, the stage was bare except for the two drums where
parents lived. The makeup was effective, red for Hamm , white or grey for the other three,
making them all look like they were dried out, decaying, or like corpses. And
the performances were fully realised, the actors clearly bought into the
material, went fully with Beckett's words and ideas and world-view. Hamm
My only quibble is that the two characters in the tin drums are underused. Nagg and Nel are a break from the Clov-Hamm duo, they reminisce and tell their stories and are tender with each other, and are a counterpoint to the two main characters. And then they slowly fade out of the action, Clov believes that Nel has died though Nagg lives on, silent and doting, shut into his drum. And so it more and more revolves around Clov and
and the question of whether Clov will leave. And I missed the dustbin pair when
they faded away, when the play became more intense, and more focused on the
pain of Clov and Hamm
in the centre, and on their battle. Nagg, in fact, is responsible for my
favourite line in the play. Hamm
Nagg: I didn't know it was going to be you!
The fading out of Nagg and Nel is not the fault of the production, of course, it is the way the play is designed, but it seemed to me that it would have benefited from using Hamm's bin-bound parents a little more. As characters they are underused, and almost have the status of a gimmick.
That said, it is a curious, fascinating experience, and a profound view into Beckett's twisted way of thinking. It is a play based on a mixture of nostalgia and horror and futility and comedy and devastation. A mixture that is impossible to find anywhere else.