Endgame, Albery Theatre, London

Odd couple make an inspired double act
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"Nothing is funnier than unhappiness," opines Nell (a cadaverously comic Liz Smith), one of the pair of oldsters who are confined to dustbins in Endgame.

"Nothing is funnier than unhappiness," opines Nell (a cadaverously comic Liz Smith), one of the pair of oldsters who are confined to dustbins in Endgame.

At first, the remark sounds counter-intuitive. But then one recalls all those occasions that flicker between howling tragedy and black comedy.

Similarly, the announcement that Lee Evans was to star in Matthew Warchus's West End revival of Endgame sounded, at first, a touch contradictory. But then one remembers Samuel Beckett's fondness for silent screen comics. And of those who can be considered contemporary equivalents, the rubber-limbed, monkey-faced Evans ranks high. So is there a method in both kinds of madness?

You bet there is. This is a stunningly good production that derives its power from the inspired pairing of comedian Evans with Michael Gambon, a mighty, meaty giant of the stage.

The evening begins and ends with a roll of drums and a clash of cymbals, and between these bouts of showbiz percussion, Warchus orchestrates an event that brilliantly draws on tones which range from the knockabout of a cruelly handicapped vaudeville double-act, to the tragic sonorities sparked between Lear and the Fool and Prospero and Caliban.

The high, dingy minimalism of Rob Howell's fine design ushers us into a terminally depleted world where everything is running out and where prospects could not be less rosy.

Hobbling like a twisted marionette and babbling like an Irish loon, Evans is intensely watchable and hilarious as Clov, the crippled servant (and possibly son) of Hamm, the blind, wheelchair-bound tyrant. In the latter role, Gambon, spluttering his flights of lofty, self-absorbed rhetoric, magnificently projects both the puffed-up luvvie and the sense that this heartless despot understands the exorbitant cost of his callousness.

He and Evans create a rapport that manages to be robustly rancorous and yet of subtle depths.

The decision has been taken here to set the play not on one of the many last, lingering days of this infernal, morbidly symbiotic scenario, but on the very last. This could have resulted in alien sentimentality. Yet if this Endgame made me cry as well as laugh out loud, it was because the production and the amazing Evans always stopped well short of lachrymose indulgence.

Comments