Endgame | Sydney Theatre Company

Endgame | Sydney Theatre CompanyLeft – Hugo Weaving. Cover – Bruce Spence. Photos – Lisa Tomasetti

Who really knows what the elderly and incapacitated go through in the final hours of life? They sit alone in their nursing home rooms, waiting for someone to change their bed sheets. One wonders if there can be dignity in death. Perhaps it is the ultimate sobering fact that, as is said in the film Donnie Darko, “every living creature dies alone.”

Endgame is a brooding and unsentimental meditation on the nature of death. I’ve never heard so much silence in a theatre production. Beckett, who was Irish, wrote all his plays in French forcing himself to concentrate on every word in order to achieve economy of language. It is ten to fifteen minutes, before the first words are spoken. The silence in a jam packed the Roslyn Packer Theatre on opening night, adds to the absurd atmosphere of the production (the Sydney Theatre on Walsh Bay was renamed in October last year).

Hamm (Hugo Weaving) is blind and sits in a wheelchair waiting for one last pain killer before everything is finished. He is attended to by Clov (Tom Budge). They don’t like each other but there is no one else, except Hamm’s parents, Nell (Sarah Peirse) and Nagg (Bruce Spence) who emerge periodically from garbage bins, pale faced like some ghastly version of Oscar the Sesame Street Grouch. The stage is one room, of high dark walls with windows that can only be opened by climbing a ladder. This room is all Hamm knows. It may even be all that exists. This may not look like a nursing home but the parallels are startling.

The play makes for slow even boring viewing at times, as we see Clov going through the motions of caring for Hamm and his mother and father. This is of course the point, to convey the tedium of Hamm’s final hours. Hugo Weaving gives an enchanting performance as Hamm. It is worth closing your eyes for ten minutes just to let his voice wash over you. Voice plays a bigger part in conveying character than usual in the role of Hamm. Hamm sits in his wheelchair the entire time, so it is credit to weaving that he can still command a stage presence while sitting down. Budge remains stooped, as he moves about the stage, speaking in a nervous high pitched tone.

This is the third Beckett production I’ve seen. The others being a performance of his radio play All That Fall, at the Seymour Centre and Waiting for Godot staring Sir Ian Mckellen at the Sydney Opera House. Beckett’s work often deals with alienation and death. Given the subject matter, his plays are usually slow and require much patience on the part of the audience. Watching a Beckett play is an act of gradual immersion into a lonely and off kilter world.

This is a play for the head not the heart. It forces us to think about what death means or if it means anything at all. Beckett and director Andrew Upton, wisely decided to distance the audience from Hamm. If we cared for Hamm, watching him die on stage for an hour and a half, would be unbearably gut wrenching. This is not an enjoyable play. It’s not meant to be. It is a play that succeeds in depicting the strange, tedious and lonely time many elderly people face before death.

Sydney Theatre Company presents
by Samuel Beckett

Director Andrew Upton
Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre
Dates: 31 Mar — 9 May 2015
Tickets: from $68
Bookings: sydneytheatre.com.au

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