first night


Caitlin McEwan spends an evening in Empty Shop with Raving Mask's production of 'Endgame'

            Samuel Beckett’s Endgame is the story of the blind, chair-bound tyrant Hamm, and the 80-minute power play he enacts with his servant, Clov, who is unable to sit down. The only other two characters in the play are the legless Nagg and Nell, Hamm’s parents, who live in dustbins. If you’re looking for something festive this December, maybe you should stay at home and watch Love Actually. But if you want a refreshingly different, wildly experimental piece of theatre that fulfills the cliché by really making you think for a long while afterwards, then I heartily recommend you get down to the Empty Shop to see this remarkably slick production.

            In nearly three years at Durham, I have never seen Beckett performed. Perhaps this is because his work is so steeped in existentialism and the absurd that it’s difficult for a cast or production team to get to grips with the minutiae of the texts. Indeed, even as an audience member, I found some of the more verbose passages of dialogue a little hard to swallow. However, this is categorically not the fault of the actors in this Raving Mask production, directed by Georgie Franklin, who on the whole deal well with the unrealistic style.

            The Empty Shop, too, is a hugely underused venue for theatre performances, perhaps because it caters to a specific type of show. For Endgame, its sparsity works perfectly. In fact, the whole aesthetic of the production is perhaps its biggest assett, with Hamm (Hugh Train) wearing a suitably absurd outfit topped off by some John Lennon glasses masking his eyes from the audience. The attention to detail in the production is clear; there are even ‘windows’ for Clov to look out of, and this lends the production a real professional air.

            Hamm and Clov are opposites on several levels: servant and master, sitting and standing, blind and seeing. Hugh Train and Joe Skelton, as Hamm and Clov, do extremely well to create this contradictory dynamic, which is especially hard considering there is no eye contact or direct physical contact between them. Skelton exploits his excellent physicality to emphasise the drudgery of Clov’s monotonous existence, while Hugh Train has to rely on his elastic vocal range to characterise the maniacal Hamm, which he does brilliantly. For a first night of such a verbose play, there were remarkably few missed lines, but initially I didn’t feel the relationship between Hamm and Clov was fully realised. This was partly due to pace; Endgame is a piece full of pauses and silences, but I felt there needed to be more momentum particularly when the dialogue between the two begins. Whether this is an issue that lies primarily with the acting or the script remains to be seen, but by the end of the play both Skelton and Train had settled comfortably into their roles, and so I feel most of the issues I encountered watching the piece can be attributed to first night nerves.

            Rounding out the cast are Sophie McQuillan and Michael Forde as Nell and Nagg respectively. They are an effective pairing, with McQuillan especially shining in her brief role. Although Forde was initially engaging, in his long exchange with Nell I felt he exuded too much youthfulness for his decrepit character. However, the tenderness between the two is keenly felt.

            Endgame deserves to be seen primarily because it is so different to most other shows you will see at Durham this year. A unique play choice in a perfect setting, combined with great acting and a very smooth production, makes for an evening of theatre, which while I hesitate to use the word ‘enjoyable’, is more than worth your money and time. Endgame is not easy, but it is excellent. 

11 December 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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