Theatre Review: Endgame – Sydney Theatre Company (Performances through May 9th)

Following the success of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot in 2013, it made sense for the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) to take on one of the great playwright’s better known plays as a follow up – Endgame – with one of Godot’s leads, Hugo Weaving, in the production’s lead role.

In what must be Weaving’s most stationary performance, he plays Hamm, a blind man who cannot stand, yet orchestrates the lives of the three characters around him: his parents (Sarah Peirse and Bruce Spence), confined to bins, and Clov (Tom Budge), his servant and presumed son, who can’t sit and weaves through the set as he constantly threatens his guardian: “I’ll leave you!”

Directed by Andrew Upton, who also directed Godot with Weaving, has done a fine job of bringing Beckett’s well known text to live. The set design by Nick Schlieper is exquisite: the sense that they are deep in the basement of a castle-like structure is well achieved – the building seems to go on forever, while the all important windows on either side give the sense of the nothingness that apparently exists beyond those walls.

The changes Upton has made in his production are small, but important, from Clov’s giant ladder replacing what Beckett had penned as a small stepladder – both adding to the scale of the stage and the humour of the action – to the decisions on the set’s minimalist soundscape, which at most features dripping water, as Tom Budge’s Clov snorts at his predicament, Hamm sitting still under a sheet as the scene is set.

Set against what we presume is the end of the world, with these four characters potentially the final living creatures on earth (a brief, humourous moment with a flea and a rat (“if I don’t kill him he might die!”) does indicate that there may be more out there and this madness may all be in their heads…), the four characters play out their musings on the situation. Not all survive the show and with three of the characters essentially immobile, it limits the action that can take place, which in itself adds to the strength of this production.

Weaving’s performance is astonishing and he holds the show together – just as the role requires of him. Given he is confined to a rolling chair, the range (and tongue) he’s able to convey just reaffirms how great of an actor he is. There’s not a moment that goes by in the one act play – which comes in to just under two hours – that you’re not compelled by his performance. And that’s down to, almost solely, his voice. As he jumps between philosopher, psycophant and borderline psychopath, his Hamm is theatrical brilliance. Costume Designer Renée Mulder has done a great job at adding to Hamm’s eccentricities, and with Hugo as Associate Director of the production, he would have added more than enough of his own take on Hamm’s situation to truly embody this typically absurd character.

Endgame in its very nature is a dark tale, with the cruelty of Hamm’s character and the rather depressing state of his bin-dwelling parents (pictured above) serving to create an overarching sense of despair to the whole affair. But Upton, Weaving and the cast have done well to balance that with slapstick, typical absurdist humour and performances which seem just over-the-top enough to keep the element of fantasy in the air, while never limiting the power or effect of any scene. A tightrope they walk with skill and care.

Sarah Peirse and Bruce Spence deliver some particularly poignant moments, and whether you’re familiar with the text or not, you’ll find it hard not to get swept up in the terrific dialogue in what is a uniquely Beckett text, with Upton giving just enough to leave his own stamp on the adaptation. For fans of the genre, this is an unmissable production, and will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of the year for the STC. And for those who may not be well versed in the absurd, it’s worth it to see Weaving in this role alone.

Performances of Endgame continue until May 9th. For tickets and more details head to:

The reviewer attended opening night on Tuesday, 7th April. Live photos by Lisa Tomasetti.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.