Review – Endgame / Rough For Theatre ll, Old Vic

Thursday 6 February 2020

If Waiting For Godot is known for being the Samuel Beckett play where nothing happens, Endgame is identified as the one with old couple in the dustbins.

But first we must dispose of the amuse-bouche Rough For Theatre ll, which precedes the dustbin play. No, we’d never heard of it either. But we can tell you it’s a play where a man called ‘C’ stands on a windowsill seemingly about to commit suicide.

Impressed We never see his face, but Jackson Milner, in a mini coup de théâtre, stands on that sill like a statue for the whole 25 minutes of the play’s running time. Milner is so convincing that at times Phil suspect he might actually be a very lifelike prop. Did Beckett write plays purely to make his actors suffer?

Unimpressed Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming play ‘A’ and ‘B’, detached, moderately amusing, besuited office types who have trouble with their desk lamps which are prone to turn themselves on and off at will. A bit like Phil’s attention span. Is the play something to do with bureaucracy? Are they accountants? Heavenly pen-pushers? Or treading water until the main course of Endgame? Hard to tell. Almost as hard to care.

Impressed Alan Cummings sports a luxuriant flop of hair in RFTII which until we saw him bald in the second play (which made him look so much like a friend of ours it was distracting) we hadn’t realised he was wearing a syrup. Forget the obscure meanings of the play, it was our only topic of discussion at the interval. Either way, we’d love our hair to look like this.

Impressed Radcliffe – again proving he doesn’t opt for the easy theatrical options – is Clov in the dustbin play and displays a comedy walk almost as funny as Theresa May’s. He does a lot of tricky business with step ladders including a dangerous comedy descent that is very funny the first three or four times. He also gives himself a comedy slap on the neck in self-chastisement every time he forgets something. This too is also very funny the first three or four times. He has some business with a three-legged toy dog which cleverly avoids being funny at all. Ditto a sequence with delousing powder.

Impressed Cummings plays Hamm the blind master to Clov and is frequently amusing. He sits in a chair throughout displaying severely atrophied bare legs. Cummings may not be amused that Brent thought they were Cummings’ real legs. Phil thought this was hilarious. The actor’s body is somehow concealed within the chair. During one of the many moments of ennui one can try and work out in what position he is forced to sit and how uncomfortable it must be and wonder whether he will leave the chair for his curtain call (he does). Did Beckett write plays purely to make his actors suffer?

Impressed Although a big admirer of many of Richard Jones previous directorial efforts his collaborations with Jane Horrocks (Annie Get Your Gun, The Good Soul of Szechuan) have left Phil rather wanting. She (along with Karl Johnson) play Hamm’s parents, a couple doomed to pop up out of their wheelie bins very briefly, unable to touch, barely able to communicate. Their convincing frailty is very touching. Horrocks is very de-Horrocksed and quietly brilliant. Phil saw the bins as a metaphor for his parents’ respective care homes.

Unimpressed Beckett teases us with lines like Clov’s “Will it not soon be the end?” and “I’m tired of our goings on, very tired.” not to mention Hamm’s carrot-dangling “It’s finished, we’re finished. Nearly finished.” “Ah let’s get it over!” “You want it to end?”. Phil nearly chewed his lips off resisting shouting out after Hamm’s presumably rhetorical “Do you not think this has gone on long enough?”

Unimpressed Brent had previously only ever seem one Beckett play before, the one with the disembodied mouth, Not I. It was a long time ago in Sydney, so he has no idea who played the mouth but he thinks it was “probably someone quite famous”. Helpful. Did Beckett write plays purely to make his actors suffer?

Unimpressed Despite impressive performances from all the cast and a few laugh out loud moments we were left scratching our heads. If only they were heads adorned with Cumming’s RFTII hair.

Endgame may be something to do with the futility of theatre existence and the passing of time. Beckett successfully stretches time by making 1 hour 25 minutes seem considerably longer. Did Beckett write plays to make his audiences suffer too? Life may be too short for this. Unless of course you were Kirk Douglas.

Rating

 

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