6th to 16th March, 2013, The Factory Theatre, Sligo & 24th to 25th August, Happy Days Festival Enniskillen, 2013
Directed by Niall Henry
With director Niall Henry and several company members trained in corporeal mine, the approach that the Blue Raincoat theatre company took to Waiting for Godot responds to many of the demands that the play makes upon its actors’ bodies. John Carty’s Clov warps his spine into something resembling an S-shape: his head tilts forward, his back sags, pushing his abdomen out. His stylised limp reveals a deftness and control over gesture and body, which allows him to evoke the character’s physical decay without diminishing the rhythm of the play. Peter Davey’s Nagg and Sandra O’Malley’s Nell are, similarly, testaments to what can be done with the restricted body, with the former appearing in pale and craggy profile from his oil-drum.
The realist box set, so often in Irish theatre an image of the cottage interior, however ironised, is rendered here in decay: there is no furniture bar the necessary chair for blind Hamm and a pair of oil-drums for Nagg and Nell; its walls are peeling, the inhabitants similarly dilapidated. The audience enters to this vision: rusting decay, with Hamm in its midst. The Blue Raincoat’s home theatre in Sligo, The Factory, is a converted industrial space in which the company fits dressing rooms, foyer and black box space into what is quite a narrow, though high-roofed space. With seating raked against one wall, Endgame’s set fills the rest of black-box space entirely. When Clov examines the ‘exterior landscape’ through his telescope, there is very obviously no outside. The space meta-theatrically shuts down the possibility of an outside – beyond that ‘window’ is the solid brick wall of the theatre building, thus lending itself readily to the play’s sense of claustrophobia.
If the performance held a flaw, it lay perhaps in the most physically difficult role in the play, that of Hamm. While Ciaran McCauley’s rendering of the part was deeply evocative of Hamm’s decaying and restricted physicality, his vocal pitch modulated little throughout the performance. While this evoked Hamm’s age and decrepitude, it did not communicate the pleasure he takes in narration, revealed in his self-congratulatory ‘nicely put that’. Like Winnie in Happy Days, his words are the only pleasures left to him – there are no more painkillers after all, no more bicycles, nor bon bons. In this pared-away world at the end of worlds, words, and perhaps his torment of servant Clov, are his greatest pleasures. For this reason, the fact that McCauley did not modulate his voice to hint at this pleasure was somewhat problematic and meant that the true darkness of the play was not always registered: it does not rest in the cruelty of the relationships between Hamm and Clov, and Hamm and his parents, but in the abyss into which all of them, especially blind Hamm stares, and which he attempts to cover over with talk, stories, words. That said, this was a satisfying production from a company skilled in physical precision. The peeling walls and Clov’s warped physicality give a sense of life encrusted and slowly dying, with Nagg and Nell a pair of statuesque icons of the apocalypse.