Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.Johannes Hjorth

Samuel Beckett’s Endgame is a dazzlingly absurd text, featuring characters and speeches that cannot fail to engage an audience. ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,’ Nell (Alice Carlill) tells us, and indeed this production handles the text’s complexities with an elegant balance of humour and poignancy. Opening with a suitably creepy pre-state, in which Hamm (Tim Atkin) sleeps beneath a plastic sheet and Clov (Seth Kruger) stands frozen in the doorway glaring at him in contempt, the show is thoughtfully staged. A simplistic set and mostly static white lighting state complement the characters’ emotions, which, though ranging from apathy to frustration, retain always an undercurrent of despair. Special mention must go to Carlill who, despite appearing only briefly from within a bin, immediately endears the audience to Nell and lends the comic exchange between herself and Nagg (Declan Amphlett) great emotional authenticity.

As the show progresses, due respect is paid to the text’s focus on not why the characters are in the bizarre situation they are in, seemingly trapped in some kind of barren, apocalyptic wasteland, but rather how they feel about it. Whilst perhaps taking a little longer to encourage the emotional engagement that Nag and Nell immediately invite, the strained relationship between Hamm and Clov is deftly played by Atkin and Kruger. Atkin in particular delivers Hamm’s soliloquies on the mundanity of existence, on the decline of old age, with impressive emotional range as he transitions subtly between contemplation, regret, grudging acceptance and frustrated despair. The stunted physicality of Kruger’s Clov must also be complimented, as well as his maintenance of the character’s ongoing struggle between contempt and duty, loathing and pity. Between them, they play out the age-old tension between parent and child with a touching veracity; despite the absurdity of their situation, we are made to feel and comprehend the emotional trajectories common to almost all human experience. ‘We’re not beginning to mean something?’ Hamm asks at one point, Atkin managing to sound very old and very young at the same time here, and we believe that yes, these strange characters in their strange white room perhaps are beginning to mean something.

This production has a few minor irksome quirks: the placement of Hamm in the centre of the space, whilst I recognise that this is a requirement of the text, obscures an audience member’s view of either Nagg or Nell depending on where you are sitting, and the costume choices struck me as strange considering the aesthetic and comic potential of old or ill-fitting clothes compared to what resembled hospital gowns. However, these distractions do not detract from the overall success of the production. It is a thoroughly engaging, funny and thought-provoking realisation of Beckett’s text which has clearly been carefully and thoughtfully directed by Sam Fulton.

If you are looking for relief from the multitude of sketch, stand-up and Shakespeare shows in the run up to May Week, I strongly recommend seeing Endgame. If you need further persuasion – alongside the show’s absurdity, its poignantly delivered existential musings and the two old people in bins, a very cute (toy) dog features.