After missing out on Antov Chekov’s The Cherry Orchid by a matter of two days, and also passing up on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, this year I decided that I would plan my theatre going experience from the 1st of January. so when I checked the Melbourne Theatre Company’s (MTC) website and discovered that Samuel Beckett’s Endgame was being staged, I made the decision that I was going to make that a play that I was definitely going to see. While I was at it, I also decided to check out the website of the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), namely because when I was in Sydney last year and visited their studio I noticed that there was a poster of a past performance of Waiting of Godot. As it turned out they were also producing a version of Endgame. However, quite ironically, it was being performed at the same time. Mind you, I was a little disappointed because I also noticed that the STC version had both Hugo Weaving and Bruce Spence, while the MTC version only had Colin Friel.
Anyway, for those of you who have yet to actually see it performed on stage, you can always watch it on Youtube:
I believe this is the full version, please let me know if it isn’t
Anyway, normally I would start off by talking about the plot, but this is a play by Samuel Beckett, which means that there is no plot: it just happens. The play, along with Waiting for Godot, is a classic example of The Theatre of the Absurd. Plays in this genre don’t work like your standard, everyday, Shakesperian play – they aren’t meant to, they simply just happen. As is the case with this play, and with Waiting for Godot, pretty much nothing happens – at all. In fact, all that really happens is that two major character move around the stage, talk, and be themselves. Then the play ends. Oh, there are also a couple of minor characters as well, but once again they simply talk, be themselves, and that is basically about it.
So, I guess the question then is: what is this play about? Well, if you were to ask Samuel Beckett you would probably not get an answer that makes any sense whatsoever. For instance, when he was asked whether Waiting for Godot was about the absurdity of waiting for a god that was never going to arrive, Beckett replied with ‘if by Godot I had meant God, I would [have] said God, not Godot’. The thing is that Beckett is a postmodern playwright, and when it comes to post-modernism the interpretation of the author is pretty much thrown out of the window and it is left for the audience to try and work it out. To me this makes a lot of sense, especially when we look at the works of playwrights who are long dead. For instance, you simply cannot go up to Shakespeare and ask him what Hamlet was about because, well, Shakespeare has been dead for over four hundred years, which means we pretty much have to work it out for ourselves (and he didn’t do the courtesy of leaving any notes behind, unlike Bernard Shaw). So, as the playwrights of old are not available to offer us interpretations of their plays, so the post-modern playwrights also step back and let us work it out for ourselves.
The same goes for Endgame because even though one could interpret the play as being set after a nuclear holocaust, Beckett is quite silent on the matter. Rather it is left for us, the audience, to interpret the play. Mind you, watching the play being performed in 2015, the idea that comes to me at least is a world that has been raped and pillaged by unrestrained capitalism and in the end nothing is left. This is the nature of his plays in that when it was written in 1957, the thing that hung heavily on people’s minds was nuclear holocaust, however these days the fear of nuclear annihilation has drifted to the background, and what worries us more is how our exploitation of the Earth is pretty much destroying everything we hold dear. As such, Endgame paints a picture of a world in the not too distance future where ‘nothing is left’. In fact the concrete bunker in which the performance that I watched was set could easily be a bunker in a world that has been ravaged by climate change.
The idea of the Endgame is a term that originally arises from a game of chess. You have probably seen a chess puzzle like this in your daily newspaper:
This is basically the endgame. You have very few pieces on the board and the idea is that you have to work out how, with these pieces, to win the game. That is not necessary the only interpretation of an endgame because, to me, an endgame is that part of the game where the end is in sight, however things still need to be done to reach that point. We simply cannot finish the game because victory is not guaranteed, however we are in a position that if we continue we will win. The best example of this was at the end of World War II after the Allies had successfully invaded the continent on D-day. While they had the upper hand, and the Nazi’s were on the run, victory was not yet absolute, and even though they were winning, they could not take their foot off the accelerator because if they were to do so then it was quite possible that the war would turn against them.
Look, while I’ve been talking about endgames in the terms of victory: this isn’t what Beckett’s Endgame is about. In fact it is a lot bleaker and darker than that; there is no victory in sight. In the same way that Waiting for Godot is about two hobos waiting for somebody that does not appear to ever intending on arriving, Endgame is a play that is always just about to end, but not actually ending. We can see the end coming, we know that it is going to end, but something suddenly happens which means that the end is pushed further away. The catastrophe has occurred, everything has gone, but for some reason life simply continues. For instance, there is the flee in the trousers and the rat in the kitchen. They aren’t supposed to be there because this is the end – there is nothing left, but they are there, and they are alive – they simply refuse to die. The world of Beckett’s Endgame stubbornly refuses to finish.
Yet there is another aspect of the endgame that came to me as I watched this play being performed. In the play there was nothing. They looked out of the windows to try and see something, but there was nothing there (unless of course something did appear because this world refuses to end). In a way everything has been discovered, everything has been achieved, we have reached our goals – but the end has yet to come. To me it is the bleakness and emptiness of modern society. We have built this luxury around us, we have made all of these marvellous scientific discoveries, we have reached the top of the world, but when we arrived we suddenly discovered that there was nothing. All there is is the endgame, and the endgame doesn’t tell us how we are supposed to win. It is like the game of Doom where we have beaten the bad guy, but the game has yet to tell us that we have won.
Could there also be a Christian message in this play? Quite possibly, but then again since I am a Christian I tend to see Christian messages in quite a lot of things. Anyway, it could be suggested that we are living in the endgame of the Christian faith. Christ has died, he has risen, and we have been redeemed, but the world has continued on for another two thousand years. The end is in sight, the victory has been won, but the we continue, and we continue to continue. In a way it is the absurdity of the faith because we are living in a world that apparently has been redeemed, however that redemption has yet to come to fruition. It is like the play – we can see the end, it is coming ever closer, but for some reason something happens to push it ever further away. Again, it is like Waiting for Godot – are we waiting for something that is never going to arrive, an end that is never going to happen?
Anyway, I will leave it at that because it is late, and I really want to go to bed, but as for the play itself, and the production that I saw – all I can say is that it was brilliant (even though it wasn’t the one with Hugo Weaving in it).