Arts: Theatre: There's nothing funnier than unhappiness
ENDGAME BARBICAN LONDON
Monday 20 September 1999
But as one of its characters observes "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness," or at least there's a perspective from which that does not seem to be a flat self-contradiction. The comprehensive bleakness of the scenario allows Beckett to put that view of comedy to a rigorous test.
The play's gallows humour is uplifting and oddly buoyant precisely because it refuses to flinch from what is most depressing in the human lot. Its jokes outwit and outstare the worst, as when Clov asks: "Do you believe in the life to come?" and Hamm triumphantly finesses the question by answering: "Mine was always that..."
Antoni Libera's compelling and meticulous production, now at the Barbican as part of the Beckett Festival, vividly emphasises the analogy between the domestic routines and stories that help these characters impose some shape on their depleted existence and the theatrical routines necessary to keep a show from dying the death. "What is there to keep me here?" inquires Clov. "The dialogue," replies Hamm, stressing that they are all trapped in a script as well as an ebbing life. Accordingly, Robert Ballagh's set, with its charred grey walls and two high windows, has a calculably artificial look, like a watercolour that has only reluctantly consented to take on a third dimension.
Alan Stanford and Barry McGovern make a splendid double act as the mutually and fractiously dependent master and servant. Dressed in a dandified pink dressing gown, Stanford's Hamm, with his grandiloquent voice and spoilt sulks, is certainly the egotistical ham actor that his name denotes, and there's grotesque comedy in the affection he lavishes on a three-legged toy dog that symbolises his frustrated need for submissive adoration. But Stanford can also veer stunningly into tones of authentic desolation, sometimes with just the slightest shift of vocal quality. Asked to check what the old father is up to in his bin, Clov reports: "He's crying."
"Then he's living," declares Hamm. And Stanford gives those three words a rueful, shrugging amplitude that recalls Lear's more expansive perception that when we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.
Wiry and intense, with a latent aggression in his bearing as he totters about his errands, McGovern's Clov counters his master's fruity Englishness with some wonderful, gruffly sardonic Irish inflections, bringing out the deadpan subversiveness of lines like: "I couldn't guffaw again today." The ambiguity as to whether this discontented Caliban can ever kick his dependency on Hamm's crippled Prospero is heightened by the fact that he maintains his final position - at the door, dressed for departure, but still looking steadily at Hamm - throughout the curtain calls. Unforgettable.
Books And it is whizzpopping!
MusicThey're running their own restaurants
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Lord Sewel quits: Peer 'boasts of having sex with BBC presenter and seeing 13 mistresses'
- 2 Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta clashes with President Obama on LGBT equality: ‘Gay rights is really a non-issue’
- 3 Topshop pulls 'ridiculously skinny' mannequins after being shamed by customer on Facebook
- 4 Five-year-old boy forced classmate to simulate oral sex at primary school, claims mother
- 5 Black and ethnic minority people twice as likely to be hit by Tory cuts than white people, report finds
True Detective season 2 episode 6 review: Tension mounts just as time is running out
Inside Out: Pixar makes crucial change for Japanese audiences by editing out broccoli
Watch Tom Cruise lip sync to The Weeknd (seriously)
Life in Squares, BBC2 - TV review: Self-indulgent and over-sexed, the Bloomsbury set were hard to take seriously
Top Gear cleared by Ofcom over Jeremy Clarkson's use of the word 'pikey'
The 9 charts that show the 'left-wing' policies of Jeremy Corbyn the public actually agrees with
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
The last thing Labour needs is a leader like Jeremy Corbyn who people want to vote for
What the Labour party could look like under Jeremy Corbyn
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park