Saturday, 13 February 2016

Yeah, Beckett speaks to me so much....

Beckett probably covers more philosophical ground in his plays that
would be recognised by Scottish audiences of the past decade. Unfortunately, the combination of his estate's notorious sensitivity to interpretations and the production of those scripts which explicitly address post-apocalyptic society (Godot, Happy Days and, most recently, Endgame) provide a vision of an artist happily churning out the same metaphorical representations of alienation and a tedious, hostile universe.

It seems hardly fair to blame Dominic Hill for not bringing the full imagination of his distinctive directorial style to bear on The Citizens' production of Endgame. Had he tried to feature an ensemble cast performing live music, or rolled a few doors across the stage in his usual manner, the estate might have rescinded his right to use the script. Instead, he presents a generic Beckett, all monologues delivered in actorly tones, snarking conversations and heavily symbolic staging. Old people in dustbins and a man who cannot walk - I wonder what the subtext could be?

Because Hill could do much more with the text. Subtle hints are littered about the script suggesting that, actually, Endgame is commenting on the tedious ritual of theatre itself. The fourth wall gets tickled by some of the monologues - who else can they be addressing than the audience? Repeated mentions of 'the play', the atmosphere of repetition even around actions that, within Endgame, could only happen once (like the protagonist's mum dying, or the exhaustion of the painkillers). At one point, when he's told to stop singing, Clov replies 'but how else can this end?', a reference to the French tradition of finishing the evening with a song. 

Of course, alienation never goes out of fashion. But Endgame and Happy Days express the alienation of a specific historical period: it is after WWII, the nuclear bomb has just revealed itself and environmental devastation has just popped up. Putting aside our current government's enthusiasm for austerity and the fashionable references to post-war rationing (Keep Calm and Keep Watching Godot), the nature of alienation now does not involve a lack of stuff and a worry that the USSR and the USA are going to slap each other around until there's just a blank wilderness outside. 

Even giving Clov and Hamm hipster beards would be a start...

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