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Lucy Popescu’s theatre news: Endgame and Rough for Theatre II at the Old Vic

17 February, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

Nell (Jane Horrocks) and Nagg (Karl Johnson) in Endgame at the Old Vic

• It is some measure of Samuel Beckett’s genius that his plays continue to resonate today. His tragicomedies evoke the circular nature of existence and his characters inhabit a poetic, all too believable, wasteland.

Richard Jones’ imaginative double bill at the Old Vic is timely. In the rarely performed Rough for Theatre II, a man (Jackson Milner) stands at a window, his back to us. We realise he is about to jump to his death. Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe, two suited bureaucrats, go through his files and debate whether he can be saved. There are hints of Beckett’s vaudeville humour, but it doesn’t entirely succeed as the 30-minute warm-up act.

In Endgame something apocalyptic has occurred. A man is confined to a room, unable to leave. An old couple live in two rubbish bins. Hamm (Cumming¸ gloriously dishevelled and imperious) sits centre stage in an armchair on casters. Blind and immobile, he blows on a whistle to summon his manservant Clov (Radcliffe, displaying a talent for slapstick). Clov limps across the stage and ascends a step ladder to look out of two high up, small windows that reveal nothing but a grey expanse. Everything, he claims, is “zero.”

Hamm’s aged parents Nagg (Karl Johnson) and Nell (Jane Horrocks) are contained in wheelie bins. Occasionally Hamm throws them a dog biscuit. Their fate is a harsh indictment of how the old are often neglected or shoved out of sight. We only know Nell has died because Nagg is found crying.

Between them, Johnson and Horrocks almost steal the show. But the central power dynamic remains the co-dependency of Hamm, a petty despot, afraid of being forgotten and Clov, his carer. Clov tolerates his mistreatment because to leave is more terrifying.

Runs until March 28, tickets on 0344 871 7628.


Don’t miss Steven Berkoff’s They Shall Not Pass: The Battle of Cable Street, about Oswald Mosley’s march through the heart of the Jewish East End in 1936. It’s on at the Arcola Theatre on February 23 and March 1 at 4pm and 7.30pm. Call 020 7503


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