Tue 10th – Thu 12th December 2013


Frederico Mollet

at 10:07 on 11th Dec 2013



It offers ‘nothing but loneliness and despair’. So said John Gielgud, when turning down the part of Hamm, and while I suspect there is truth in this, it is not necessarily a bad thing. If not pleasant, a play about a blind master who cannot walk, a servant who cannot sit, and two legless parents in trashcans, set in the aftermath of the worlds end, is certainly interesting. Whatever one may say about this little cornucopia of perplexing misery, there is little to find fault with in Raving Mask’s delivery of it.

The audience found itself nestled in the Empty shop’s room, most of it taken up by the stage. It is sparse apart from the quickly unveiled, significant mounds, resembling an unused and forgotten cellar, and wonderfully intimate. The audience was left alone in the same cramped and barren wasteland as the characters, as they suffered and amused themselves in the emptiness less than a foot away (I realize a cramped wasteland appears to be a contradiction, but it makes sense for this play). The refreshing lack of music only served to deepen this loneliness and sense of connection, and emphasise the characters’ presence. This places a heavy burden on the cast, but they performed admirably.

Sophie Mcquillan and Michael Forde were believably old and engagingly resigned to their situation as Nag and Nell. Mcquillan could have easily been one of my grandmothers friends, and Forde managed to give the impression half the time that he didn’t have teeth. Unless we saw them, that is. Together they provided most of the play's scant chuckles.

Hugh Train’s Hamm was malicious, cruel, controlling and pathetic, deriving what amusement he could from what he succeeded in inflict on others, be that suffering, vexation or perplexity. His highly expressive delivery might have at times threatened to crossover to ham (ha ha), but never did, and was very effective. I particularly enjoyed the sense of bitter self-awareness that would occasionally surface in the characters' quieter moments.

He was matched by Joe Skelton’s Clov, who clambered down onto the stage with the rusted creaking joints of one who can never rest them. Despairing, perplexed and put upon, you could feel him squirm under Hamm’s thumb and whatever trace of hope he had left. A fine performance.

It was by no means a perfect production. Hamm dominated too much. Clov always appeared to be somewhat behind him, and I felt the play would have benefited from a more equal share of the focus. Perhaps this is why Clov's turn at the end felt like it needed more build-up, it was all happening on the side-lines. Although, to be fair, since I was sat smack dab in front of Hamm, it might well be a situational problem.

While the makeup might have been effective on a more conventional stage, it showed too much for what it was in these cramped quarters, particularly on Forde and Mcquillan. On the few occasions Train turned his head fully to the side you could see his eyes were open, which startles you out of the willing suspension of disbelief.

Finally, for a play so bleak, so replete with references to a corpsed landscape, grey light and a dying sun, it sure was brightly lit. The actors all did a fine job conveying these qualities, but the whole production would have been greatly improved by just being dimmer.

It was nevertheless an impressive and immersive production, of which the director, Georgie Franklin, and the cast should be proud.

As to its meaning, I doubt I could make any useful or insightful commentary, and I don’t think I’d want to if I could. This play seems that is to each his (or her) own, although I suppose you can say that about most of them. It is certainly well worth seeing, even (or especially) for one completely unfamiliar with Beckett's work.


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