By Jacqueline Grima
If you are a fan of Samuel Beckett’s absurd and, often, macabre tragi-comedies and are looking for a fix, then get yourself along to HOME in Tony Wilson Place, Manchester. Over the next two weeks, HOME is staging a production of Beckett’s Endgame, a play originally written in French and translated into English by Beckett himself.
HOME’s production is directed by Dominic Hill and stars David Neilson and Chris Gascoyne, who some might know better as Coronation Street’s Roy Cropper and Peter Barlow. In the intense and, often, hilarious performance, Hamm, a paralysed and blind apparent tyrant, lives in filthy one-room isolation, relying solely on loyal and downtrodden servant, Clov, to care for him, bring him pain medication and report on the outside world. The play also stars Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty as Hamm’s parents, Nagg and Nell, who, seemingly legless, live in two dustbins at the edge of the stage (this is Beckett don’t forget!).
Taking centre stage for the whole 90 minutes, with no interval, Neilson is brilliant as the near-death dictator figure, Hamm, all traces of his alter ego, Roy Cropper, gone. Making constant use of the shrill whistle that hangs around his neck, he dominates the exhausted Clov, his companion obviously having been at his beck and call, day after day, for many years. Whilst clearly showing the despotic side of his character, however, Neilson also successfully pulls the audience into his world, Hamm’s constant fear of losing what little control he has left of his life demonstrated by his relationship with Clov and by the parents he keeps almost like pets.
Chris Gascoyne’s Clov, unable to sit whilst his master is unable to stand, is funny and tragic all at the same time, Gascoyne’s slapstick skills often making the audience roar with laughter. As Nell points out, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness. It is the most comical thing in the world.” Limping and in pain, Clov sees to Hamm’s every need, the comic relief his character brings much needed in such a tragic tale of two companions whose relationship Beckett, as well as Neilson and Gascoyne, portrays beautifully.
Clov and Hamm, both seemingly intent on perpetuating their own misery, struggle to live with each other but are ultimately both terrified of change, leaving the audience with the question: who is more reliant on whom? When Clov points out, “I never refuse”, Hamm’s reply is ‘You are not able to.” With life outside, shown only when Clov reports on the apparently desolate landscape beyond the window, seemingly barren and unwelcoming, we may also ask if, for Hamm and Clov, it may be a case of better the devil you know.
Endgame is running until Saturday 12th March. For tickets and more information, see the HOME website.
To find out how you can take part in a live online chat with David Neilson and Chris Gascoyne about their performance in the play on Wednesday 2nd March, click here.