Things You Need to Know about Endgame
Samuel Beckett‘s Endgame comes to our stage this January performed by Alan Cumming, Daniel Radcliffe, Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson, in a double bill with Beckett’s rarely staged Rough for Theatre II.
But what is Endgame all about? Here’s everything you need to know.
- ‘Endgame’ means the final stage of a game such as chess or bridge, when a few pieces or cards remain or the final stages of an extended process of negotiation. This perfectly encapsulates the end-of-the-world feeling of the play, as the characters struggle to remember, move, leave, or die.
- Out of all of Samuel Beckett’s plays, this was his personal favourite. Endgame was completed before the London premiere of Waiting for Godot, and Beckett described it as ‘more inhuman’ than his first and most famous play.
- It was originally written in French. It premiered as Fin de Partie in a French-language production at the Royal Court in 1957. Beckett later translated the play into English.
- Seeing Endgame in 2020, over 60 years after its world premiere, has a particular resonance. In view of today’s global climate crisis, the play’s setting of apocalypse, natural disaster and resource scarcity paint a future that feels more relevant than ever.
- It is full of opposites – in themes of life and death, the universal and the particular, isolation and partnership – as well as in the relationships between characters.
- It reflects Beckett’s fascination with double acts. The central characters of Hamm and Clov recall Beckett’s earlier bickering, existentially troubled double act, Waiting for Godot’s Vladimir and Estragon. Beckett himself was a fan of legendary tragicomic double act Laurel and Hardy, admitting to being ‘tantalised’ by the idea of them performing a version of Waiting for Godot.
- Two of the characters spend the whole play inside dustbins. Nell and Nagg are the parents of another character, Hamm, and they sleep, reminisce and eat biscuits from inside dustbins onstage. Beckett’s actors are no stranger to physical restriction; in other plays characters are written as buried up to the neck in earth (Happy Days), confined in funeral urns (Play), and suspended in the air with only their mouth visible (Not I).
- Beckett’s favourite direction for actors was ‘don’t act’. While famous for his lengthy and specific stage directions, Beckett’s advice for his actors reflects the minimalist style and sparse stage design that he also insisted upon for his plays.
- Endgame is presented in a double bill alongside short play Rough for Theatre II, a rarely performed Beckett piece about two men discussing the fate of the other man in the room, who never speaks.