This Endgame looks good, sounds impressive and features some truly excellent performances, but it just doesn’t add up.
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Image: Julie Forsyth (Nell), Rhys McConnochie (Nagg) in the MTC’s Endgame. Photo by Jeff Busby. 

Sam Strong’s vision of Samuel Beckett’s bleak, hilarious play Endgame has the trappings of excellent theatre, but sadly none of the soul.

Making a production of Endgame stellar, to be fair, is no easy feat. Beckett’s play follows (such as it were) the grumblings of Hamm, a blind man confined to a chair, his servant Clov, and his parents, Nell and Nagg, both of whom live without legs in their respective dustbins. The quartet are confined indoors following an unknown apocalyptic event, and are now simply waiting for the inevitable, generally passing the time by sniping and griping. (It’s more compelling than it sounds.)

The production looks and sounds like a triumph. Designer Callum Morton’s silo-like set, with its curved walls and miniscule windows, is so effective that it nearly makes the theatre feel colder. Lighting designer Paul Jackson’s fine work adds to the atmosphere, with the initial bright, warm light within the bunker set gradually, gradually fading to twilight grey, as does one’s hopes for the characters on stage.

Sadly, this MTC production doesn’t feel like a triumph. Put simply, it lacks emotional resonance. Placing Colin Friels in the role of Hamm is the sort of thing that feels like a home run, and he works hard with his expressive voice and energetic gesturing, but his Hamm feels thin – there’s nothing beneath his impressive veneer. He’s not helped much by Luke Mullins’s Clov, whose inconsistent physical performance (a limp becomes less and less exaggerated through the course of the evening) and wavering accent mean that the character never feels grounded.

The production is redeemed somewhat by the shining lights of Julie Forsyth and Rhys McConnochie, who play Hamm’s dustbin-dwelling parents, Nell and Nagg. They revel in some of the play’s funniest, cruelest lines, but at the same time they imbue their characters with genuine emotion. It’s a lovely thing to see McConnochie’s ever-hungry Nagg save half of a precious biscuit for his sleeping wife, and it’s a deft touch from Strong that when he proffers it, it’s not played as a sacrifice, but rather just another moment of gentle banter between two long-suffering spouses who would still love to share a kiss.

Perhaps this production could have been salvaged if Hamm’s connection to his parents were better explored, but there’s no depth to the son’s anger at those who brought him into the world. There’s no depth to much of Hamm’s anger, really, or Clov’s, and in this regard there has been a failure to draw anything but the most obvious of laughs out of Beckett’s script. This Endgame looks good, sounds impressive and features a couple of truly excellent performances, but it just doesn’t add up to much. Bringing Beckett back to the MTC after so many years could have been something special, but this production is an opportunity missed. 

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

By Samuel Beckett
A Melbourne Theatre Company Production
Director: Sam Strong
Performers: Colin Friels, Luke Mullins, Rhys McConnochie and Julie Forsyth
Set designer: Callum Morton
Associate set designer: Andrew Bailey
Costume designer: Eugyeene Teh
Lighting designer: Paul Jackson
Sound designer: Russell Goldsmith

Southbank Theatre
Until Saturday 25 April 2015

Aleksia Barron
About the Author
Aleksia is a Perth-grown, Melbourne-transplanted writer and critic who suffers from an incurable addiction to theatre, comedy and screen culture.