“What the hell was that!?” spluttered a bewildered Corrie fan sitting next to me as Chris Gascoyne and David Neilson took their final applause as Clov and Hamm, alongside co-stars Barbara Rafferty (Nell) and Peter Kelly (Nag). Endgame had just finished and after 90 minutes without a break, we were a bit dazed.
|Hamm (Neilson) & Clov (Gascoyne)|
The relatively new HOME theatre in Manchester City Centre was packed, and I sat among a mixed group of press, students, bloggers and of course avid Coronation Street viewers, and I was keen to see their reaction not only to Samuel Beckett’s play itself, but also to the performances of Weatherfield favourites Chris and David, who are more familiar to us as boozing womanizer Peter Barlow, and of course entrepreneur and international sex symbol Roy Cropper. The intimate theatre was dominated by a simple but imposing set. One filthy, square room, two dirty windows, two rusty rubbish bins and a white sheet covering something unknown in the middle of the stage.
In shuffles Clov, limping and twitching, exhaustion etched on his battered, scab-ridden face. Immediately we are treated to a brilliant physical performance, not a word has yet been uttered but we are brought in by Gascoyne’s almost comedic entrance, the slapstick style of his movements momentarily taking our minds off the dismal and decaying setting of the near empty room. We are pointed toward the outside world through one of the small windows, then, after the clumsy manoeuvring of a step ladder, again prompting giggles from the audience, the other window. But we never see the outside, we just know it’s there and Clov is aware of it. Before long the dialogue begins and that familiar husky tone to Gascoyne’s voice reminds us Corrie fans who is playing Clov, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that, with all the dirt and sores disguising his hunched body.
Hamm, Clov’s master, is sitting in a sort of armchair wheelchair throughout. Just like Clov, Hamm is suffering from numerous physical ailments. Clov acts as Hamm’s carer, he’s his eyes and ears, and legs – Hamm can’t stand up, and Clov can’t sit down. But that’s where the harmony ends – Hamm is bossy, impatient, cruel and manipulative at times, but for some reason Clov won’t leave. He takes the grief and puts up with Hamm – but not without a great deal of complaining and resentment toward his master. Gascoyne has choreographed the role wonderfully, every jolt, squirm, trip and sigh timed to perfection.
Aside from the physical dynamics of the play, the dialogue between Clov and Hamm is chaotic, almost exhausting. Gascogyne’s delivery a bit hurried at times but this was a minor negative on what is an impressive performance.
The interaction between Clov and Hamm takes us on a journey, the audience know we are heading to some kind of finality, but we aren’t sure if that’s death, the separation of the two main characters, or something else from the outside. David Nielson’s Hamm, pondering impending doom, is a delight. A deeply unpleasant character, you can tell Beckett wants you to dislike Hamm. And you do, but there’s something endearing about his pitiful neediness and reliance on Clov. As he faces up to the torments of life, the inevitability of death and the inconvenient predicament of being blind and immobile, even though Clov makes his life that little bit less dreadful, Hamm passes much of that torment onto Clov knowing he will get away with it.
You should go to see Endgame to enjoy Neilson’s Hamm if nothing else. Sitting in that wheelchair, centre stage pretty much all the way through the play, it’s as if the former gasman has waited his whole career to let rip and play a part like this. Physically he’s almost unrecognisable, even the voice is different, and Hamm of course couldn’t be further from Roy Cropper. The play came about because of Nielson and Gascoyne’s own love of Beckett’s play and you can tell how much care has gone into putting it together, sticking to Beckett’s strict rules on simple stage directions. Hamm is vile, loud, selfish and cruel – his parents are disposed of in the two rubbish bins to one side of the stage, and they pop out every now and then to reminisce about past holidays, and to beg for sweets – which Hamm promises then refuses to give to them, although they do get to suck on a biscuit. He would out-Scrooge Scrooge and Neilson really captures what Beckett intended when creating the least likeable character you’re ever likely to encounter.
|Nell (Barbara Rafferty) & Nagg (Peter Kelly)|
My verdict is that this interpretation of Endgame is well worth a visit on its limited run in Manchester following success in Glasgow. Neilson has to get back to the cobbles so you only have until 12th March to see it. It might be the only time you see these two actors together in this setting, although I have a suspicion that with Gascoyne and Nielson’s shared interest in this type of storytelling, they might team up again sometime in the future. And they should.
As far as new theatre goers, and fans of Coronation Street going to see Endgame – absolutely. You might never see anything like this again but it’s 90 minutes that combine comedy, intricate dialogue, clever physical performances and the realisation that you have so many questions when you leave: Why were Nagg and Nell in bins? What’s outside? Why won’t Clov just leave?
You might even reach for Google when you get home, to learn a bit more about what you’ve just watched. I did, and I’m still a bit clueless.
Chris and David will be taking part in a live Q&A about the play on the 2nd March - you can participate and find out more here.
Deirdre: A Life on Coronation Street - official ITV tribute to a soap icon. Available here.
Follow the Bluenose CorrieBlog on Twitter and Facebook