Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame pratfalls about the stage as Alan Cumming OBE provides derelict foppish flair in this Beckett classic on existence, cruelty and death.
As the planet and society are on verge of collapse, it feels timely that The Old Vic has programmed this unrelentingly pessimistic work. However, maestro opera director Richard Jones CBE has created a production that deviates from many of Beckett’s original intentions. Nevertheless, like Shakespeare or Arthur Miller's work, the text is strong enough to withstand any bells or whistles that decorate the original meaning.
Endgame – the main attraction – is performed alongside the rarely produced short play Rough for Theatre II which begins the evening’s entertainment. In it, Radcliffe and Cumming play bureaucratic servants of suicide, discussing the fate of a man standing at an open window, who never moves or speaks. Radcliffe plays his part with clinical rigidity, while Cumming becomes a beehive of agitation, growing increasingly flustered about a faulty lamp.
In Endgame, Radcliffe is the bumbling, put-upon Clov, an entrapped servant and son figure to the decrepit, brutal Hamm, who keeps his ageing mother and father in two dustbins. Cumming as Hamm delights in theatrical preening and histrionics, and has been given leeway by director Jones to add his sparkling signature flair to the protagonist. But does it work?
Throughout Endgame there are opportunities to reap emotional rewards from Hamm’s emotional leaps of spite, hope, delight and fear. An actor with a kaleidoscopic range, Cumming’s portrayal of Hamm feels flamboyant but superficial. The relationship between Hamm and Clov has been washed out with theatrical affectations, so that the conflict within their sinister power play is lost in actorly pyrotechnics. There is no doubt that Cumming is one of the finest contemporary actors the UK has produced, but it feels like his talents haven’t been properly utilised in this production.
'Death of the Author’ is a legitimate literary theory that can be applied to this production’s choices, but it is interesting that Beckett was undeniably averse to anyone defying his exact instructions on how Endgame should be performed. In 1984 he is quoted as saying, 'Any production of Endgame which ignores my stage directions is completely unacceptable to me… Anybody who cares for the work couldn't fail to be disgusted.'
The key to unlock Jones’ production lies with hard-core Beckett fans who have engaged with Endgame productions as Beckett intended. Jones has deliberately veered away from Beckett’s slow, flat, and metronomic performance directions (a metronome literally being used by Beckett to restrain his actors’ speech patterns and tone of voice). With that in mind, this production takes on a frisson and delight in breaking Beckett’s formal rules.
Ultimately, this enchanting cast will not leave you spellbound.
Tickets for Endgame at the Old Vic are on sale. Click here to book.
|Endgame, Old Vic Theatre review
|The Old Vic, The Cut, London, SE1 8NB | MAP
27 Jan 20 – 28 Mar 20, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|£10 - £100
|Click here for more information and tickets