Endgame - Melbourne Theatre Company

It's been 15 years since MTC's taken on Samuel Beckett's idiosyncratic language.
Eric Gardiner
Published on March 30, 2015


Beckett's a rare proposition indeed at the Melbourne Theatre Company — this Sam Strong-directed production of Endgame is only the company’s second foray into the Irish dramatist’s effortlessly bleak style since 1990's Waiting for Godot.

The control Beckett’s estate wields over the production of his work might be to blame, especially in a modern era where directors can tend towards radical recontextualisation. But this production shows that these same limitations can just as easily be incredibly liberating.

Visual artist Callum Morton's design for Endgame flourishes within these strictures. Confronted with the problem of a design with strict guidelines in the script, Morton opted for the interior of a kind of 'lighthouse'. It's one where the light has long since gone out; its keeper first replaced with machinery and those mechanisms in turn long rusted away. Morton's concrete slabs replace the fourth wall to become the curtain, and as they rise on the action there’s an implication of unsealing a tomb — one in which the audience, now part of the same space, are fellow inhabitants (and exhibits).

The core of Beckett's play is made up of the interchanges between a blind, irascible, chair-bound man named Hamm (Colin Friels) and the servile Clov (Luke Mullins), bound by mutual flaws and reciprocities. Hamm is the only one who knows the combination to the larder, Clov can see, and walk. On paper, this is probably the strongest cast assembled for the company’s 2015 season; with Mullins and Friels joined by Rhys McConnochie and Julie Forsyth. These two are superb as Hamm’s parents, Nagg and Nell — his 'pregenitors' — now living inside barrels. One of Forsyth’s greatest strengths as a performer is that voice — somehow impossibly, completely ethereal but wielded with utter control — and she and McConnochie’s performances are superb, creating a kind of warm light that hints at the hopeful, redemptive possibilities of love; one which is extinguished just as quickly as their lids can be slammed shut.

Mullins has an exacting level physical commitment to his role that is impressive but the approach risks planing away some of the delicate intricacies of the text, and many moments where volume substitutes for emotion. So too Friels embodies Hamm with a sort of ocker confidence that suits many moments well but doesn’t allow for a great deal of other depth.

Although it’s a production that succeeds in capturing the blunt force trauma of codependency, there isn’t a great deal more subtlety operating beneath the surface. But being able to watch actors like Forsyth and McConnochie tackle the rigors of Beckett’s idiosyncratic language make this more than worthwhile.


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