Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Knight doesn't take Queen: Endgame, Duchess Theatre

Is musical theatre really the panacea for these uncertain times? For the West End is currently taken with the plays of Samuel Beckett, that arch-miserabilist modernist. Just as the recent production of Waiting for Godot closed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, Endgame opened at the Duchess, while Godot is about to return, re-cast, due to audience demand. And the actors in these productions - Mark Rylance, Simon McBurney, Patrick Stewart, Miriam Margoyles, Ian McKellan and Tom Hickey, are stellar names.

Perhaps our collective thinking goes something like this - the world is going to the dogs, but it hasn't quite reached the inertia, despairing and hand-wringing of Beckett's theatrical vision. The relief! There's redemption in all this bleakness. Or, as Nell (Miriam Margoyles) would have it in Endgame, 'nothing is funnier than unhappiness', the play's most important line, according to Beckett.

Talking of words, Hamm says, 'I feel a little queer', changed by actor, Patrick Magee to, 'I feel a little strange', with Beckett's approval, but has been returned to its original form in this production. Being surrounded by a joshing gang of sixth form students, I was surprised by their failure to snigger at this. In fact, I can't remember a moment in public in the last twenty years when the word 'queer' didn't cause laughter.

Endgame is an exercises in entropy and hopelessness, and the real world is heading nowhere good fast, but at least we seem less bent on ridiculing gays on our way to oblivion.