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THE WORLD OF BECKETT'S ENDGAME

Endgame will come to the Playhouse in August and ahead of our production director, Alexandra Emeljanow gives a snapshot overview of Endgame and the world of Beckett the writer.

Date posted: 11th March, 2019

Author: Alexandra Emeljanow

Production: Endgame

Endgame was originally written in French, as Fin de partie (1957), and
subsequently translated into English by Beckett himself.


In 1956 when Beckett originally finished Fin de partie it was a two-act play,
however Beckett wasn’t satisfied with this and decided upon creating a single, much longer act that would communicate an atmosphere of depletion, entropy and claustrophobia. Beckett himself referenced Endgame as an act that had inhumane qualities, ones that exploited physical disabilities and mutilations of character, and one which would portray the character’s relationships as caustic and embittered.


Despite his efforts to have the play produced for its first time in Paris, various
Parisian theatres refused the play which lead to the play’s premiere taking place in London’s Royal Court Theatre on 3 April, 1957. For the most part, the initial production was not received well with many critics disappointed over the absence of any sense of hope; something that Beckett cared not about. Beckett translated Fin de partie to Endgame between May and August in 1957. The license to produce Endgame in Britain was initially refused due to Beckett’s refusal to comply to emending parts of the script with language deemed unacceptable by Lord Chamberlain (despite being previously allowed to be shown in London in French). For this reason, the premiere of Endgame took place in New York’s Cherry Lane Theater on 28 January, 1958, directed by Beckett’s preferred American director, Alan Schneider.
 

Samuel Beckett 1906–1989

Beckett's characters are tied together by a fear of being left entirely alone, and
they therefore cling to one last hope of establishing some kind of communication. His plays give the impression that man is totally lost in a disintegrating society, or, as in Endgame, that man is left alone after society has disintegrated. It is hard to ignore that Beckett’s work was largely influenced by his experiences throughout the Second World War. His imagination had been deeply affected by the suffering he witnessed and the devastation the war had created to people he was close to. However, it was the loss of his brother Frank, in 1954 to lung cancer, that caused Beckett terrible anguish, an anguish that ultimately lead him to the preoccupation with ‘ending’; a preoccupation that would haunt this play.


With Endgame deliberately withholding clarity, Beckett refused to accept the
notion of ‘a theatre of the absurd, a concept that implies a judgment of value’.
Beckett went on to state ‘that it’s not even possible to talk about truth. That’s part of the anguish’ (S.Beckett, Rencontres avec Samuel Beckett, 1986). Throughout Endgame we are presented with a strongly subversive and shocking refusal of the values of life and family and by its refusal, Endgame brings the oldest and venerated literary mode of the Western tradition, dramatic tragedy.


Here in Australia, both the Melbourne Theatre Company and the Sydney Theatre Company staged Endgame in 2015, coincidently at the same time, with Hugo Weaving and Colin Friels cast as Hamm within their respective theatre companies. Previous to this Sydney hadn’t seen the play on a main stage since 2003 and Melbourne since 1997.

With Beckett’s rigid views on staging, it has caused many theatre companies production challenges with regards to modernising the play. The Beckett estate in court has challenged many theatre companies over such changes to staging, with Beckett’s estate seeking restrictions on staging changes in order to prevent the integrity of Beckett’s work. However, it has been a contentious debate over the years as to whether or not these restrictions have in fact created a fracture between modern audiences, as such audiences are feeling estranged from the historical staging.

 

With Beckett’s work being incredibly restrictive in terms of form, the structure of the piece is very clear and if you veer from that you can cause big issues for the production. However, as Hugo Weaving was quoted, following his role playing Hamm in the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2015 production of Endgame, ‘when you do find your own lives within that form, then it can be a very joyful experience. Beckett has the most amazing sense of humour. All his writing is infused with it’ (H. Weaving, April, 2015).

Pictured Hugo Weaving (Hamm), Tom Budge (Clov) from the 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production at the Roslyn Packer Theatre. (Director Andrew Upton. Set Designer & Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper. Costume Designer Renée Mulder). Photo James Green

By Alexandra Emeljanow for The Very Popular Theatre Company

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