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Samuel Beckett’s End Game.
Opening at The Old Vic, London on 4 February 2020, the much-anticipated Endgame is creating a flurry of excitement amongst theatre lovers. Not only is this production a Samuel Beckett double-bill, but it also brings to the stage four acclaimed actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Jane Horrocks, Karl Johnson and Alan Cummings. Directed by Richard Jones, the two plays being staged are Endgame and Rough For Theatre ll. Rough For Theatre ll, one of Beckett’s short, one-act plays is in fact rarely seen.
Irish playwright, novelist and poet, Beckett won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Happy Days, Krapp’s Last Tape and Waiting For Godot are regularly performed and Londoners will have had the opportunity to see marvellous productions of these plays in recent years. Beckett fans are having a feast this winter with Trevor Nunn directing three short Beckett plays at the Jermyn Street Theatre.
Endgame was originally written in French and called Fin de Partie. It was first performed in French in London in 1957 at The Royal Court. It was translated into English by Beckett himself and is described as ‘a macabre comedy in which hope and cruelty are the last things to die’. As with Waiting For Godot, Beckett locks two characters in a stalemate. In Endgame these are an old, blind tyrant named Hamm and his servant Clov. They cling stubbornly to their routine of casual savagery and mutual dependence, themes which are very much alive in Beckett’s work. Hamm’s parents, Nell and Nagg, take their place in dustbins on stage.
Rough For Theatre ll relates the story of two men who discuss the fate of a third man who remains silent as his life is weighed in the balance. Is he alive or dead?
As with all theatre, but particularly perhaps with Theatre of the Absurd and Beckett’s minimalist approach to dialogue, the calibre of the actors is key. There is really no place to hide. Daniel Radcliffe may be a big draw due to his fame from his years playing Harry Potter, yet he has since developed a very successful stage career, appearing in The Cripple of Inishmaan, Equus, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead (at The Old Vic in 2017) amongst other plays on Broadway.
Alan Cumming is another well-recognised face on the London stage having appeared at the Donmar (Hamlet), Death of an Anarchist (The National) and a panoply of film and television work including The Good Wife.
Karl Johnson has appeared at The Old Vic in King Lear as well as As You Like It and Noises Off. A long list of London productions includes Animal Farm (National Theatre), Hamlet (Barbican)The Weir (Royal Court).
Jane Horrocks is a much-loved actor who will always be remembered from Absolutely Fabulous. London audiences will have seen her on stage at The Old Vic in King Lear, Cabaret (Donmar), Road (Royal Court) and many productions in the West End such as Sweet Panic, East is East and The Room/Family Voices.
Multi-award-winning director, Richard Jones, is well known to London audiences for productions including Into The Woods, Too Clever By Half, The Illusion and The Hairy Ape.
Beckett’s plays first appeared on stage at The Old Vic in 1964 when his new work, Play, was performed. Happy Days followed in 1975 with Peggy Ashcroft playing Winnie. Over two decades later Sir Peter Hall directed Waiting For Godot when he became artistic director of the theatre. 2016 saw a production of No’s Knife. Fortunately, only a few years later, Beckett’s work returns to The Old Vic.
Endgame was Beckett’s favourite of all his plays. It has lost none of its resonance for modern audiences as its exploration of an apocalyptic scenario with scarce resources and natural disasters is no less relevant in 2020 than it was when it was written in the 1950s.
Endgame in a double bill with Rough For Theatre ll is on at The Old Vic until 20 March 2020.
The Old Vic
Lambeth SE1 8NB
You may also be interested in our review of The Sunset Limited at the Boulevard Theatre.