Endgame review – Frankie Boyle brings fresh life to Beckett’s dystopia | Theatre


One of Samuel Beckett’s most celebrated plays, Endgame can seem unapproachably austere in its depiction of a living hell. In Danya Taymor’s vibrant new production, the abstraction of four characters trapped in a room after some unspecified catastrophe has new resonance: there is a suggestion of environmental destruction – or perhaps the aftermath of a pandemic.

And uncared-for elderly couple, Nell (Gina Moxley) and Nagg (Seán McGinley) are confined to grey dustbins, in even greyer uniforms, living on scraps of biscuits. Their son, the blind Hamm (Frankie Boyle) and his endlessly put-upon carer-servant, Clov (Robert Sheehan) enact a series of daily routines and rituals that are repeated to the point of exhaustion.

As Clov struggles up a ladder to the high windows of Sabine Dargent’s wide-angled set, he describes what he sees in the world outside: nothing, zero, the same as before, same as every day. The ocean’s tides have stopped and there is “no more nature”. Within the room, “something is taking its course” – something which, if Hamm tries hard enough to remember a distant past, might even mean something.

Gina Moxley and Seán McGinley.
Mordant humour …Gina Moxley and Seán McGinley. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Sitting paralysed in his armchair, wrapped in blankets, Hamm is played by Boyle with arch weariness and absurd flashes of actorly hauteur. His portrayal of Hamm is more sympathetic than usual; occasionally he seems almost fond of the boyish Clov. Sheehan’s deft timing and easy physical comedy keep the tone buoyant. Frustrated rather than angry, Clov comments on his own performance with relish: “This is what is called making an exit.”

All four actors emphasise the dialogue’s mordantly comic tone, paying minute attention to timbre of voice and flickers of facial expression, Moxley in particular. Her question to Nagg, “Have you anything else to say to me?” is both touchingly hopeful and knowingly hopeless. Even the most often-quoted exchanges seem fresh, as when Clov hangs over Nagg’s dustbin to see if he’s still alive. “He’s crying,” he reports. “Then he’s living,” comes Hamm’s rapid-fire response.

Together this beautifully directed ensemble make Beckett’s influential portrayal of nihilism moving and unexpectedly invigorating.

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