Robert Sheehan and Frankie Boyle in Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Photo Ros Kavanagh
It's the little things. In Samuel Beckett's minimalist universe little things mean a lot. Especially silence and physical movement. Something director Danya Taymor is acutely mindful of in The Gate's revival of Endgame. Take the staging. It might be a slight elevation, creating a small mound of the stage, but Sabine Dargent's exquisite set turns Clov into Sisyphus, dragging his leg behind him, each chore a struggle. His relentless movements infused with agonising futility, punctured by brief moments of relief. Helping unlock the pathos and compassion at the heart of Beckett's 1957 existential classic. One of many such salient details.
Seán McGinley and Frankie Boyle in Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Photo Ros Kavanagh
Narratively there's not that much to speak of. Clov begins yet another day as frustrated servant-come-son to Hamm, who lords it over everyone from his wheelchair. Verbal gunfights ensue as life's ironies and absurdities are writ large, flavoured with a delicious hint of meta-theatrical self awareness. Meanwhile a ghostly looking Nell and Nagg pop up from their lidded dustbins like ancient Whack-a-moles, dispensing their nonsense and wisdom. The line between wisdom and nonsense being a fine one. As conversations ensue, each one reveals themselves a self-inflicted martyr to their compassion. If, by the end, it all goes nowhere, we've been everywhere we need to go. And if it goes nowhere, that's because there's nowhere to go. Even as the final image suggests otherwise. But that's only to remind us it's hope that gets us every time.
Gina Moxley and Seán McGinley in Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Photo Ros Kavanagh
All you can do is laugh. And Beckett is a master of laughter. Which makes the casting of comedian Frankie Boyle as Hamm a stroke of genius. Boyle is understatedly brilliant, exercising exquisite timing as the curmudgeonly Hamm, the bane of Clov's existence, a superb Robert Sheehan. The chemistry between Boyle and Sheehan reminiscent of a seasoned comedy double act. If the chemistry between Gina Moxley and Seán McGinley as Nell and Nagg is a little less effective, with pace dragging a little, it still sparks with joy and life. All made visually compelling by Isabelle Byrd's lighting and Katie Davenport's sumptuous costumes. Clov's overalls part labourer, part little boy lost. Nell and Nagg's moon dusted nightwear suggestive of Jacob Marley's cousins. Boyle's opulent wheelchair, his feet dangling above the floor, evoking a large, loathsome insect. Moved about by Clov, the only one capable of movement. And therefore capable of escape. If only there was somewhere to escape to.
Frankie Boyle in Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Photo Ros Kavanagh
Fundamentally, not much seems to have changed since 1957. Sixty-five years since its first production, Endgame proves itself remarkably robust and relevant. Which is a testament to the rigour of this production. Theatrically, Endgame is like an aged whiskey. Flavour it in as many casks as you want, if the basic blend isn't right, the taste suffers accordingly. Funny, thought provoking, and exceedingly well done, Taymor's Endgame at The Gate proves to be quite flavoursome, with something of a long, lingering finish.
Endgame by Samuel Beckett, runs at The Gate Theatre until March 26.
For more information, visit The Gate Theatre.