Endgame and Rough for Theatre II at the Old Vic
This Samuel Beckett double bill at The Old Vic is as entertaining as it is weird. Classic Beckett complexity meets an energetic cast with perfect timing.
Opening with Rough for Theatre II, Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe take to the stage in a 25-minute production to discuss a man’s life. Or more accurately, his death, and whether or not to allow it.
A stunningly black set fills the space with a window cut out of the centre. A man is poised, ready to jump but frozen in time, as the other two characters discuss his past and his fate. Both stars hit every note perfectly. The nervous and riled Cumming plays off the more straight Radcliffe; together they produce a wonderfully funny and engaging show.
The main event, Endgame, takes place at the end of everything. And yet the end never seems to come. Things merely seem to go around in circles. Hamm (Cumming) is a blind old man who can’t stand up, while his companion, carer and servant, Clov (Radcliffe), can’t sit down. Both long for the end but continue on. Meanwhile, Hamm’s parents, Nell and Nagg (Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson), occasionally poke their heads up from the dustbins they live in.
It is a large but plain set. There is space all around, signifying nothingness. The living room would be empty if not for these final remaining souls. However, if the stage is simple, the script is anything but. This adaptation remains true to Beckett’s challenging themes and pregnant pauses. A lesser cast would struggle but these four veterans bring it to life.
The show is full of physical humour. This is mostly courtesy of Radcliffe, who somehow manages to make ascending and descending a ladder a more memorable affair than the cinematic appearances he’s known for. Horrocks and Johnson’s melancholic existences as the dustbin parents are also brilliant.
But it is Cumming who is the centrepiece and linchpin of Endgame. He meets every one of Beckett’s famed pauses perfectly, communicating more with a segment of silence than any words could. Despite being unable to move his lower body, every motion of Cumming’s twisted Hamm is mesmerising to watch, as he turns and itches and points and sways.
Both Rough for Theatre II and Endgame are wickedly entertaining pieces performed by a world-class cast. Those unfamiliar with Beckett are likely to feel challenged, but both shows are thoroughly enjoyable all the same.
Endgame and Rough for Theatre II is at the Old Vic from 27th January until 12th February 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.