Endgame, while not Samuel Beckett’s most celebrated theatrical piece, is commonly considered his most important.
Black Swan Theatre Company has brought this timeless classic out of the archives, producing it with respect and delicacy.
Director Andrew Ross, a stalwart of the production company, has rallied a cast of Perth’s finest to deliver a stylish interpretation while staying true to Beckett’s original stage directions.
Beckett was a complex writer with an insatiable drive to find the meaning of life. Much of his work deals with ‘in-betweenness’ and voids of human existence and Endgame epitomises this with its dark themes and straightforward dialogue.
The etymology of ‘endgame’ refers to the final stages of a chess game and many analogies link the dialogue and main characters of Hamm and Clov as being the King and the pawn moving across a chessboard. Comparisons have also been made to the story of Genesis, where Beckett’s play becomes a work of anti-creation, as he sets about deconstructing the world towards Armageddon.
When the lights come up on the stage, the simple shape of a house can be seen. Its colours reminiscent of a Pilbara desert; red dirt, grainy, with evidence of tributaries where once rivers ran. The windows are too high and the only doorway too narrow. Welcome to the theatre of the absurd.
In the centre of the stage is an armchair and a figure covered in a sheet. To the left are two twenty-gallon drums, where Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell reside.
Beckett’s work relies on the delivery of dialogue and simplicity in words and movement. Under the expert direction of Andrew Ross, Geoff Kelso’s portrayal of Hamm is fierce and faultless.
Kelton Pell plays Clov, the downtrodden carer, with whom Hamm shares his home. The pair act out the dynamic contrast of power and who holds it. Was it a conscious decision for Ross to cast an indigenous man in the role of Clov? It seems a deliberate choice, an added layer of messaging, drawing parallels to the oppression of indigenous Australians in the context of Beckett’s theme.
This is not a play for anyone looking for light entertainment, although there are many moments of humour in this tragicomedy. Without a little understanding of absurdist theatre or the work of Beckett, it may not be fully understood. But maybe that is the beauty of it; much is left to your own interpretation.
This is a must-see for theatre students and Beckett fans; a perfect piece of timeless theatre. Just don’t expect enlightenment; that was never Beckett’s intention.
Endgame continues at the Heath Ledger Theatre until 11 June.
Images: Daniel James Grant