Whether reading his scripts or experiencing them live, playwright Samuel Beckett is renowned for creating work that is both hard to swallow and thought provoking. It is usually impossible to leave his productions without needing to think critically about what has been presented, and Shake and Stir’s production of Endgame is no exception. Director Michael Futcher delivers one of Beckett’s most topical post-World War II pieces with actors who confidently portray complex characters and an immersive set that overwhelms one’s senses before the production has begun.
Futcher poses Beckett’s concepts, comments and questions to the audience with purpose and attention to detail. There is an overt focus on the text and its complexities, allowing Beckett’s language and characters to carry the production. This faithful approach allows a mass of questions surrounding life, death, and the struggles in between to subtly creep into the audience’s minds from the moment the show begins. Futcher carries the absurdist form and existentialist concepts with well-defined consideration, delivering the story with pace, heartbreaking honesty and a touch of comedic irony.
Robert Colby is fantastic as the blind, crippled and commanding Hamm. As he orders around the characters in the claustrophobic room his performance exudes a prowess that makes the bossy, cruel and childishly stubborn Hamm almost likeable. Colby’s efforts carry the entire production with consistent support from Clov (Leon Cain) and welcome appearances from his parents Nagg (John McNeil and Nell (Jennifer Flowers). Without the use of his eyes, Colby takes advantage of his physicality, gestures and voice to convey the complex journey of emotions and relations his character experiences. His committed and controlled snaps between child-like dependence and impatience is so impressive that his performance pushes past the limitation of his large glasses. The audience remains wrapped around his finger.
Clov’s predicament is an equally painful experience for the audience and actor alike. While his physical disability causes him cringeworthy pain with every step, this is incomparable to the more complex emotional pain he experiences throughout his servitude to Hamm. As Clov submits to Hamm’s orders, Canin deftly toes the line between innocent obedience and suffocated frustration with an immaculate subtlety.
In the background of the plot yet the foreground of the stage sit Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell. This elderly couple’s chemistry beams from their powdered faces and touches the heart of the audience. Flowers does wonderfully as the weak and weary Nell despite working with an insignificant amount of stage time, while McNeil’s gentle nature and heartbreaking begging is not unlike the disposition of a mistreated but loyal house pet. The pair are a voice of experience and wisdom, but also a physical reminder of deterioration in the body and the mind. Although the work is universal in setting, commentary and character portrayal, the voices of Nagg and Nell could be rendered relatable or regrettable depending on the age of the audience member. Regardless of their reception, the couple’s presence haunt the stage long after their trashcan lids have closed and they have each spoken their final lines.
Despite Futcher’s efforts, there were definitely moments within the work that dragged. Hamm’s monologues were often either long-winded or loaded with theories that became buried beneath dull stories. As expected with a Beckett production, without the usual freedom to rework, rearrange and remove text, Futcher was limited in solutions to these issues but the team did well to keep the pace and energy as engaging as possible. An example of Futcher’s creative strengths came with the opening sequence. As the theatre dissolved to complete black and a soundscape filled the audience’s ears, Futcher created what seemed to be an invasive insight into Hamm’s existence as a blind man with a chaotic mind.
The design was equally as evocative as the actor’s performances, with Josh McIntosh’s dark set design set activating an immersive environment for the show’s setting. The walls were drab, the furniture was dank and dusty, and Jason Glenwright’s delicate lighting created a chill and darkness that loomed over the entire space. Paired with Guy Webster’s confronting sound design, the design team created a strong atmosphere from start to finish that was one of the triumphs of the production.
Shake and Stir’s Endgame is unsettling, daunting and thought provoking. All of the characters are depressingly tragic and the world they exist in is effectively ambiguous. While there is no cemented time or place, it is still apparent that the outside world is in ruin and the relationships between the four characters are dysfunctional and disconcerting. With a set, costume and sound design working together to create an aesthetic as dark and unsettling as the plot itself, Shake and Stir ensures that their rendition of Endgame will linger in the minds of Brisbane audiences long after the short-lived season has closed.
– Written by Rhumer Diball August 12th 2016
ENDGAME PRESENTED BY SHAKE & STIR THEATRE COMPANY AND QPAC.
THURS AUG 11 – SAT 20 AUG 2016.
Photo credit Dylan Evans.