Nell and Nagg are an elderly couple who have lost their legs and been forced to live in two dustbins by their tyrannical son, Hamm. The reason I love this moment in a play filled with gestural gems is that Beckett has distilled his love of human optimism against all odds within a visual moment worthy of Buster Keaton. He places the dustbins close enough so that the couple always feel that they could possibly kiss, but actually they can't. What I love is that Beckett demonstrates here that at the heart of almost all great comedy is the subtext 'If you can't do something, try and do it anyway and fail for the amusement of the audience.' On top he has included a text of impeccable rhythm created by Nell's fatalism capped by Nagg's wonderful discovery that yet more of his body is falling apart. Their failed struggle amuses us and touches us. This 'joke' could be played anywhere in the world and people would understand it. This gesture of ritualised failure is funny, painful and beautiful all at once.
David Glass's 'Gormenghast' continues at BAC to 31 July and then transfers to the Lyric, Hammersmith, 2-28 Aug (see listings, below, for details)
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