Citizens, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

TO classify Beckett's second stage masterpiece as "theatre of the absurd" is only useful if we accept that the world we all inhabit boasts a surfeit of such absurdities. Dominic Hill's superb new production for the Citizens and Manchester's HOME appears divorced from "reality" for only as long as it takes Chris Gascoyne's Clov - the only mobile character - to painfully pace out the rusting seam parameters of Tim Piper's container-like set before he utters the first word of the text: "Finished." By then we are in a meticulously delineated stage world the never loosens its grip for an enthralling hour and a half.

That is in large measure achieved through a quartet of superb performances, with David Neilson commanding and vulnerable centre stage as Hamm, making light work of the weightiest monologues, and Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty creating full-scale stage-front characters in the bin-bound Nagg and Nell, with their mouthfuls of dreadful teeth, extracting every comic nuance from the text. It is in their references to the Ardennes and Lake Como that a world beyond is acknowledged, and Piper cleverly reflects that in a seaside postcard front cloth that is reduced to a framed painting on the back wall, that has its back turned to us for most of the time. Everything encapsulated in Endgame is measured: the uncertain passage of time, the commitment of one character to another, and the mostly unseen and diminishing supplies of biscuits and medicines - but signinficantly without any scale of values.

Except, of course, the familiar values of the stage itself, where characters aspire to a "loftier misery" and "nothing is funnier than unhappiness". The vaudeville approach to disability, and use of props, particularly the set of steps Clov moves to examine the outside world through the high windows using a brass spyglass and the near-formless three legged stuffed dog he has made for Hamm, exclaim the artifice of the world we are drawn into, where God does "not yet" exist. "What is there to keep us here?" asks Hamm, rhetorically. "Dialogue", comes Clov's reply, earning the biggest laugh of the night.