I must start with a sincere apology on behalf of what follows: indeed, when it comes to offering up reviews of the weekend’s events, I would appear that my style is more akin to that of Mark Lawrenson than Mark Lawson. None the less, I thought I would try my hand at some theatre reviewing, having had the misfortune this weekend to sit through Complicité’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, currently running at the Duchess Theatre in the West End.
I think its only fair to mention at this early stage that I am not a massive fan of a lot of Beckett’s works. And this is a great source of disappointment to me, for I really wish I could be. I’m quite down with the whole postmodern thing in theory: there are a whole host of reasons for this, the chief one being that it enables me to wank on at dinner parties in a vein attempt to chat up women who soon after quickly realise how little money I actually have, how I only got into the room because of friends I met at university, and that I not a viable marriage option. But it passes the time. This play, however, sadly did not.
Originally penned in French and entitled Fin de partie, its name apparently derives from the last part of a game of chess, when only a few pieces remain in play. (The French title can be applied to games besides chess, and Beckett supposedly lamented the fact that there was no precise English equivalent.) What follows is an agonizing 100 minutes whereby the four remaining pieces, or actors, follow each other around the stage without any sense of conclusion, like a stubborn novice who refuses to admit defeat.
Whilst this resounding lack of purpose was undoubtedly Beckett’s actual purpose in writing the play, I felt the immediate idea that characters would exist in the unchanging, static state it opens begins by neglecting the a very real essence within human experience. Hope and relational interaction all too often serve simply as their own reward. Thus, whilst their external conditions seem feasible and interesting, right from the very start their internal instincts did not, destroying any reflections which could have been drawn thereafter.
Nonetheless it continues. Each day contains the actions and reactions of the day before, until each event takes on an almost ritualistic quality. It is made clear, through the text, that the characters have a past (most notably through Nagg and Nell who conjure up memories of tandem rides in the Ardennes). However, there is no indication that they may have a future. Even the death of Nell, which occurs towards the end of the play, is greeted with a lack of surprise. The isolated setting, the diseased characters, and the constant references to aspects of civilisation that no longer exist, is then followed by cataloguing of every human emotion or form of interaction which are dismissed as inherently self-serving and futile.
It is – in a word – bleak. Stepping outside the theatre afterwards, you are met with the often neglected realisation that, actually, the apocalyptic future that was predicted by many such writers in those early Cold War years has not materialised and – by some standards at least – we are actually doing alright! But Beckett undoubtedly hoped I’d take more from it than that. Yet I just found it reductionist – juvenile, even. At no point, for example, did its writing reference the fact that this was intend for production. The poor theatre company (who can be genuinely sublime) were left trying to strain out a few laughs from never funny constructs. I felt like the writer was simply writing against himself. No wonder I didn’t feel welcome.
In short, had the play not been written by Beckett and were luvvies everywhere not too scared to vent comment about anything they believe they may not have possibly totally understood (read: a lot of things) I very much doubt that the play would have ever been commissioned. Far from advocating a West End full of ‘We Will Rock You’, I would simply like to say that – on some occasions – there is some utter bollocks out there being put on by renowned theatre groups in the name of renowned writers. Let us not be too scared to call them out, for not to do so on such occasions really would devalue their art.