Review: Endgame

The Old Vic
3 star rating
Erudite and barmy, often dreary and sometimes funny. The set was sleek, the performances were entertaining ... but needs someone to breathe life into the dustbin.
Endgame at The Old Vic

Image courtesy The Old Vic

Show details

Show information

Theatre The Old Vic

Closed here Saturday 14 March 2020

Cast and creatives


Alan Cumming - Hamm/B

Daniel Radcliffe - Clov/A

Jane Horrocks - Nell

Karl Johnson - Nagg

Suzy King - Understudy Nell

Jackson Milner - C/Understudy Clov, A

David Tarkenter - Understudy Hamm, Nagg, B, C

Voice: Barbara Houseman


Richard Jones
Samuel Beckett
Stewart Laing
Adam Silverman
Fergus O'Hare
Sarah Fahie


'Go and get two bicycle-wheels.'

'There are no more bicycle-wheels.'

'What have you done with your bicycle?'

'I never had a bicycle.'

Nothing stirs outside.

In a bare room, Hamm, an old, blind tyrant, is locked in a stalemate with his servant Clov.

Interrupted only by the nostalgic musings of Hamm's ancient, dustbin-dwelling parents, this bleakly funny double act cling stubbornly to their routine of casual savagery and mutual dependence.


Richard Jones (The Hairy Ape, Into the Woods) directs Beckett's macabre comedy in which hope and cruelty are the last things to die.

Endgame will be presented in a double bill with Samuel Beckett's rarely seen short play Rough for Theatre II, performed by members of the company.

Note: the Old Vic decided on 15 March to end suspend the presentation of this show for the two weeks up to its close date.

ActDrop reviews

Katherine Cowles

Performance date: Monday 10 February 2020
Review star rating image

Daniel Radcliffe doesn't do accents.

Or at least he can't, even when he does.

Starring in Samuel Beckett's Endgame at the Old Vic, Radcliffe, playing a geezer of a servant who can't sit down, slides in and out of his cockney (we assume?) accent as swiftly as he scales his stepladder for a view out the window at our wasteland of a world.

At the climbing-up-and-down-the-ladder bit, Radcliffe excels.

The boy wizard, now a fully-grown stage actor with demonstrable upper-body strength, is at his best when he sticks to the physical stuff.

As mockney servant Clov, dragging his dud leg around the stage as if shackled by ball and chain, he injects silliness and visual interest into a play built almost entirely on moaning.

One almost wishes Radcliffe could forget the dialogue altogether and quietly huff his way up and down the ladder for the entire duration.

But hélas! Beckett, despite his obsession with silence, decided to fill it.

Radcliffe's performance seems a sensible place to start since he, alongside Alan Cumming, will be the main box-office draw for Richard Jones's production, which is essentially Beckett by the book.

We kick off with curtain-raiser Rough for Theatre II, a rarely-seen fly-by sketch about two ghostly bureaucrats going through a man's life files in the moments before he jumps out of a window.

It's all brilliantly disorientating, partly because the ponderous play itself makes next to no sense, but mainly because the audience, just settling in for a kip, finds itself turfed out for the interval after a mere thirty minutes.

At the bar, then, it's time for scores on the doors, and already it's clear who, in this two-man showdown, is trailing behind.

While Radcliffe recalls his lines like this morning's shopping list, chatty Cumming rattles them off effortlessly, naturalistically, a delivery that's not just a nice-to-have but an essential if anyone is to understand even a fraction of what the bloody hell is going on.

Again, in Endgame, Radcliffe might be tasked with pushing and hauling various objects around the stage, but it is Cumming who does all the heavy lifting.

He plays the armchair-bound Hamm, who is master to Clov, and the two men are trapped in a white-washed room with two out-of-reach windows and only 'death' outside.

Cumming's camp, vaudevillian take on the despotic role works wonders: he humanises and humourises all the tall tales and existentialism.

The same is true of Karl Johnson and Jane Horrocks, who are a breath of fresh air, delightfully tender, as parents Nagg and Nell.

They live in two dustbins at the front of the stage and pop up every now and then for a biscuit and chat before disappearing below their lids.

One wishes they could stick around longer, bringing more of that gentle breeze to what increasingly feels like stuffy and unsurprising theatre.

The production itself does what it says on the tin bin.

As a director, Jones is obedient to his maitre Beckett as Clov is to Hamm - but even Clov, at least, is able to challenge the authority.

Beckett died in 1989, but still the litigious executors of his artistic will live on, meaning directors are bound to follow his strict casting and stage directions with little room for innovation.

Around Beckett there is a culture of fear and servitude, one that will continue to exist until 2059, when his work finally enters the public domain.

Until then, audiences will have to content themselves with conservatism, knowing, at least, exactly what to expect.

Endgame is erudite and barmy, often dreary and sometimes funny.

The set was sleek, the performances were entertaining.

But Beckett is Beckett is Beckett.

It can have all the bells and whistles, all the talent, but I've a niggling feeling what it really needs is a bit of Nagg and Nell treatment: someone to breathe life into the dustbin.

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