A curtain featuring a pretty painted seaside picture lifts slowly to reveal Tom Piper’s suitably grimy set – rusty, damp and closed off from the world. There are two small windows offering a peek outside, but you’ll need a ladder to reach them and a cloth to clean them. Samuel Beckett’s Endgame is an extraordinary piece of writing, a classic of modern theatre and this collaboration between the Citizens Theatre and HOME is as vital and as macabre as it should be.
Taking on the roles of chair bound and blind master Hamm and his dutiful servant Clov are Coronation Street favourites, David Neilson aka Roy Cropper and Chris Gascoyne, who plays Peter Barlow. Existing somewhere between life and death, far from the cobbles and chatter of Weatherfield, Hamm (David Neilson) and Clov (Chris Gascoyne)are inextricably bound to one another and spend their existence verbally brawling at each other. Hamm’s parents, Nagg (Peter Kelly) and Nell (Barbara Rafferty) occupy two bins on the stage offering Hamm a glimpse of memory and nostalgia.
Director Dominic Hill brings out every bit of detail in the script, finding new subtlety and absolute meaning in the bleak and absurd world that the characters inhabit. Endgame is not without humour – dark but strangely uplifting at the same time, and it is this ambiguity, masterfully brought out by Hill, that makes it so compelling.
Neilson and Gascoyne give striking physical performances throughout, their peculiar and repetitive traits build upon Beckett’s very particular stage directions. Chris Gascoyne’s timing and physicality as Clov is superb; unable to sit down and constantly threatening to leave, he excels in bringing out the elements of slapstick. David Neilson is brilliant as Hamm, intelligent and matter-of-fact, nothing is rushed here and every word is loaded with meaning.
I read somewhere that Gascoyne and Neilson, having been in Coronation Street, are hoping to bring in an audience who possibly haven’t been to the theatre or haven’t seen any of Beckett’s work before, which is a really positive thought. On the evening that I attended, I was thrilled to sit next to the world’s leading Beckett scholar James Knowlson OBE – a personal friend of Beckett and writer of his biography, Damned to Fame. Amidst the noisy applause, James Knowlson was shouting his approval and later described the production to me as ‘extraordinary’. Now that has to be a worthy testimonial.
Endgame is on at HOME, Manchester (2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN) until Saturday 12th March 2016 and you can click here for tickets.