First featured on TV Bomb, 1 March 2016.
Vanishing Point’s latest show The Destroyed Room, a co-production with Battersea Arts Centre, is a show for anyone who enjoys yelling at Question Time or listening in to other people’s political arguments after one too many pints at the pub. The premise is pretty simple: three characters in a room having a conversation. Over time, gulped glasses of water become gulped glasses of wine, and the chat starts to flow dangerously freely. These are not inconsequential topics of discussion. All the biggies are here: Syria, the refugee crisis, child mortality – and it’s fascinating stuff.
The starting point for director Matthew Lenton was 1978’s The Destroyed Room, an image by photographer Jeff Wall, in which a bedroom has been inexplicably ransacked and destroyed. From the outset this piece is aware of its own theatricality. Two cameramen constantly encircle the three conversationalists – introduced as actors and not characters – with the image relayed to a screen above the action. The audience become voyeurs, privileged to every nuanced reaction, watching extreme close-ups of those before us without permission. It presents an interesting dilemma: to watch the action on screen, through a cinematic and directed lens, or to watch the conversation in its natural form before us. As the “unscripted” conversation progresses, it is difficult not to become acutely aware of missed junctures or tangents: dropped remarks and lines muttered under the breath that just cry out for the catharsis of examination. Each character has a delicate arc, played out against Kai Fischer’s understated but affecting designs.
The Destroyed Room takes a firm kick at our tendency to keep on scrolling past images of unspeakable atrocity, choosing to soothe ourselves with cat videos and pictures of other people’s babies. It is a bold and brave production, confident enough to take risks and pose big ethical questions without fretting over the lack of easily available answers. This is big, electric stuff – go and see it, and then ask yourself some difficult questions.
First featured on TV Bomb on 26 February 2016.
As Theodor Adorno eruditely noted, ‘understanding [Endgame] can mean nothing other than understanding its incomprehensibility, or concretely reconstructing its meaning structure – that it has none.’ This can be more succinctly explained by a fellow audience member, who, in a panto-loud whisper, declared her stance on the work of Beckett early on: ‘I just don’t understand what’s going on.’
She’s not wrong. This is an apocalyptic nightmare, where the two main protagonists, Clov (Chris Gascoyne) and Hamm (David Neilson) entrap each other with their frailty and melodramatic bickering; two absurd lives lived in uncomfortably close proximity. Hamm’s parents Nag and Nell, the excellent Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty respectively, reside unhappily in two dustbins – a metaphor for the care of the elderly that doesn’t require an awful lot of unpacking. The text is full of darkly comic moments – for it is true, as Nell comments, that nothing is funnier than unhappiness – and of postmodern dissections of theatricality: the play demonstrates an awareness of itself as an aesthetic work. ‘What is it there to keep me here?’ asks Clov. ‘The dialogue,’ replies Hamm.
It’s difficult to blame Dominic Hill for not being able to put his now highly recognisable directorial stamp on this piece: the Beckett Estate is notorious for its iron grip on the catalogue of works, meaning that Godot will always have that hat on, and Endgame will always have two windows, a ladder, an alarm clock to tell the end of time, and a telescope to gaze upon a world in ruins. There’s not an awful lot set designer Tom Piper can do with this, but he creates a grimy, grey hellhole that reflects and refracts misery. His decision to allow a view around the back of the set is perhaps a little distracting: if Endgamecreates a stage of misery within the theatrical stage, what is the nature of this larger stage that contains it all? Overall this is a solid production with nuanced performances of pleasurably unlikeable characters. Sadly it’s difficult to see how this piece could ever be anything more than a relic whilst the Beckett Estate continues to push back against the changing tide. These plays are big enough to have life again; how about an all female Endgame?
Now there’s a thought.