There’s a double page in the program for the MTC’s Endgame titled “explantion”. It’s about modernism, Absurdism and finding meaning in Samuel Beckett’s writing. It’s great for post-show conversations but it doesn’t talk about the possibility of losing yourself in Beckett’s world and not giving a toss about meaning.
For me, the joy of a Beckett stage is being lost in a WTF time and space with people for whom this is every day. There’s a rhythm – a music – to his writing that moves his audiences through the text without having to stop to understand and interpret. This rhythm is easy to see in a script and a loss to anyone who doesn’t let it beat on the stage.
In Endgame, the world is described as “grey light”. Here Clov (Luke Mullins), who can’t sit, is servant to Hamm (Colin Friels), who can’t walk or see and spends every day in a chair in the centre of the space. To his right are two large cans or bins where Nagg (Rhys McConnochie) and Nell (Julie Forsyth), Hamm’s parents who have no legs, live. They talk about death and endings knowing that the inevitable release may be too far away to offer much hope.
But it’s not bleak, and being free to laugh is what makes it light and fun.
The essential grey light is created by designer Callum Mortum and lighting designer Paul Jackson (and not forgetting Eugyeene Teh’s costumes). There’s a literal fourth wall of grey cement slabs that disappears in the opening of perfect black out (and may those who chose that moment to deal with their phones get parking tickets before the week is out); there’s nothing like velvet of pure dark to guide us into the unknown.
The bare world is a bunker made of concrete slabs, and, even as it asks questions and offers answers from future apocalypse to last century’s wars, we never know why or how or when. The passing of a day is in the lighting that’s only black to white. The changes are imperceptible until the grey is darker or a shadow has moved. As the night draws in, the stage looks like it’s pulling away from the audience and could be turned off with the flick of a remote control.
Sam Strong directs a cast who know Beckett and at their best bring a complex understanding to their characters that let the audience find that rhythm. Mullins and Forsyth especially find the humanity and loss in the subtext, while still letting Clov and Nell be clowns.
But there are moments of indulgence that makes it about the actors. This breaks the rhythm and takes us back to looking for explanation rather being happily lost in the pulse of grey light.