I would never have considered myself a fan of Beckett, but perhaps I had just never seen a well-done production because I thoroughly enjoyed Soulpepper’s take on Endgame.
This is the second time the company has staged Endgame. It was first mounted in 1999 and ended up winning the Dora Award for Best Production. Director Daniel Brooks wanted to take another look at the play because he felt there was more to explore.
At the center of this one act, is the blind, immobile Hamm, sitting in the middle of the room in his wheeled armchair barking out orders while dabbing away at his bleeding eyes and wiping at his useless eyeglasses. His elderly parents, Nagg and Nell, sit side by side in dustbins; unable to move enough to just kiss one another. The only character that can move about the space is Clov, miserably shuffling to and fro, begrudgingly following the commands of Hamm.
This is theatre of the absurd, so in many ways it is a story without a point, but the dialogue is so rich that it never gets stale or boring. Beckett was the master of repetition with the ability to make the mundane interesting. Just when you think the characters might be making some bit of progress, the action stops and circles back. The audience is a giant microscope looking at the minute details of the character’s last days. The script is so dark and heavy that the absurdity of it all leads to a great deal of humour. As Nell says, ‘‘nothing is funnier than unhappiness.”
Julie Fox’s set is bleak, the perfect, depressing cell to house four people facing the end of the world. It is just a grey room with two overly high windows and the two dustbins in the corner. I loved how at the beginning of the show, the curtain made a slow, squeaky assent, finally revealing the tableau.
This kind of play is really all about the acting. There is limited blocking, a minimalist set and few props. There is nothing to rely on up there but the precision of the acting and the four actors on stage were as sharp as they come. It is a near perfect tennis match where no one ever misses the ball.
Diego Matamoros, who was also in the original production, is downright phenomenal as the shuffling Clov and Eric Peterson seems to endlessly steal any scene he in. Joseph Ziegler commands the stage as Hamm, not an easy task when the character doesn’t move and is wearing shaded glasses the entire show. Maria Vacratsis rounds out the cast and is entirely appealing with her downturned, hound dog face.
Endgame is a treat. If you want to see a production that I am sure Beckett himself would approve of, head on down to Soulpepper.