Endgame, Duchess Theatre, London
Life is a Dream, Donmar Warehouse, London
Terror 2009, Southwark Playhouse, London

Superlative substitutes Rylance and McBurney get ‘Endgame’ off to a very good start

Stuck in ruts, yearning to escape but caught in a loop, incapable of change. That describes most of the characters in Samuel Beckett’s plays. It seemingly didn’t apply, however, to the cast in this major West End production of Endgame, Beckett’s existential dark farce played out in a post-apocalyptic hovel.

One minute, Richard Briers and Adrian Scarborough were all set to portray the decrepit, chair-bound yarnspinner Hamm and his hobbling, tormented servant Clov. Next thing you know, both actors have hightailed it. By all accounts, that was due to Scarborough’s next job (at the NT), rather than ructions with director Simon McBurney of Complicite.

Anyway, who’s complaining when the substitutes are bigger news: indeed, potentially superlative. Mark Rylance is now ensconced as Hamm, hot from his storming Royal Court performance in Jerusalem. And Clov

is McBurney himself: a Lecoq-trained performer-director who might well rival the superb tragicomic clowning of Lee Evans in Matthew Warchus’s great Endgame of 2004.

As the lights come up, dimly, on a charred brick barn – and again at the close – McBurney’s Clov stands frozen, just staring intently at Hamm. In fact, McBurney plays down the physical clowning. His Clov looks, rather realistically, like a sagging farmhand in a dirty vest: shoulders slumped, arms hanging heavy. His stiff-legged stagger – up a ladder to a small window whenever he’s ordered to survey the wasteland beyond – is subtly slapstick, but looks genuinely painful too. His ossified foot smacks against each rung on the slide down, like the clacker in a football rattle. He does go to town, hilariously, when firing clouds of flea-powder down his pants. Meanwhile Rylance’s Hamm is satirically histrionic from the waist up, in a dilapidated aesthete’s dressing gown and James Joycean dark specs. While his legs dangle like a rag doll’s, he accompanies his obsessive storytelling and moans about feeling drained with an effete writhing of the neck and twirling hands.

What’s mildly disappointing is the delivery of lines – at this early stage in the run, at least. The pace feels fractionally rushed. Maybe the urge is to push towards naturalism, away from overstating the latent poetic rhythms. Yet a few laughs are lost, in the rush, and some philosophical gravitas.

Still, if this isn’t yet a great Endgame, it’s already a very good one. As Hamm’s derelict parents in dustbins, Miriam Margolyes’s melancholic Nell and Tom Hickey’s gaunt Nagg are touching. Gradually, you sense the play’s structure, almost like musical movements; the starkness of the dialogue starts to bite, and Beckett’s vision of a ruined world gains a chilling ecological dimension.

If existence is a living death in Endgame, Life is a Dream according to Pedro Calderon de la Barca. In this 17th-century Spanish drama – given a darkly glistering Donmar revival – Dominic West’s Prince Segismundo, pictured right, has been cast from the palace at birth and shackled in a remote tower because of parental forebodings. He is Calderon’s answer to Oedipus.

However, in this variation, Segismundo is released by his regal father (Malcolm Storry). The prince immediately outrages the court with his uncouth delinquency. Shorn-headed, West squats like a gorilla on the throne, his prune-dark eyes darting. He grabs any beautiful lady who wows him and furiously tosses any protesting gents out of the nearest window.

This play is oddly uneven, sporadically brilliant, like a bumpy pearl (the original meaning of “baroque”), switching between high-flying poetry and rumbustious comedy. Calderon’s prince can philosophise like Hamlet then behave like Caliban or Ubu Roi. All the parallels with other European classics – including Pirandello – make this production rich with literary echoes, though Helen Edmundson’s English translation takes a while to find its feet. The initial lofty poetry falls flat, and Jonathan Munby’s directing has a few blips too. There’s some hoary acting in the first act, and the prince infeasibly scales a wall while sleepwalking.

Nevertheless, West is on explosive fine form. Kate Fleetwood copes valiantly as the cross-dressing avenger, Rosaura. The period costumes are handsome against designer Angela Davies’ molten gold backdrop. And Munby pointedly leaves niggling doubts hanging about the “happy ending” of hasty marriages.

Lastly, Terror 2009 at Southwark Playhouse is a collection of four short plays toying with Grand Guignol tropes and contemporary horrors. The line-up of writers is outstanding for the London fringe: Neil LaBute, Anthony Neilson, Mark Ravenhill and Lucy Kirkwood. Neilson’s Twisted lives up to its name, directed by Hannah Eidinow, with a malign psychiatrist (Trudi Jackson) and seemingly reformed killer (Adrian Schiller) playing games. The Experiment, a monologue performed by Ravenhill with a glinting smile and a pinstripe suit, is an edgy, almost Swiftian satire: a possibly delusional natter about medical trials on neighbours’ babies.

However, Kirkwood’s ghoulish Psychogeography proves uncomfortably caricatured. And terminally, LaBute’s Some White Chick is sickeningly nasty, brutish and short.

We are asked to sit and watch as a pair of middle-class American youths, between casually munching on junk food, beat up and stab a whimpering adolescent girl to death. They finish off with necrophilia and a video camera, making a snuff movie. LaBute may want this to be hailed as the most shocking piece of theatre ever staged, but it just felt to me, horribly, as if the dramatist was getting a kick out of it, without producing any substantial analysis or argument.

The most illuminating moral comment, on the night I attended, was half the audience refusing to clap.

‘Endgame’ (0844 412 4659) to 5 Dec; ‘Life is a Dream’(0870 060 6624) to 28 Nov; ‘Terror 2009’ (020 7407 0234) to 24 Oct

Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices