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Mesmerising: Mark Rylance and Simon McBurney in "Endgame" 

Just as there are, supposedly, a few things in life one should not try even once, such as incest or Morris dancing, there are certainly several things one should not try twice. Seeing Samuel Beckett's Endgame (at the Duchess until December 5) more than once is often said to be one of them. None the less, and despite having seen a production of outstanding finality in 2003 — with Michael Gambon and Lee Evans at the Albery Theatre — I was tempted to go to this bleakest of plays yet again, because it was produced by Complicité theatre company, one of this country's national treasures, and anything it does is worth seeing. 

Even so, Endgame seems a strange choice for this company, known for its imaginative and physical sense of theatre, as this play is in the most obvious sense very static: of its four characters, only one can move at all. Clov, the exploited manservant, can only just walk, while Hamm, his monstrous master, sits blind and paralysed in an invalid chair, and his two old parents are confined to dustbins, legless, comfortless and largely witless. Moreover, Beckett has imposed very strict theatrical limitations on any production — there is little room for invention by any director, still less for the exuberance and innovation of Complicité. Simon McBurney (co-founder of the company who both directs and plays Clov) has created a great production of what is not Beckett's greatest play.

True, no one does existential angst better than Beckett, and his language here is mesmerising in its deathly wit and its whimsical, self-mocking, astonishing range. Mark Rylance as Hamm is at the height of his virtuosity, so supple, forceful and mobile in his voice and in his every movement from above his wasted legs that his performance is hypnotic. His Hamm is indeed very hammy at times, exploiting a great range of emotional posturing and theatrical gesturing, between moments of precise cruelty and despair. This is one of contemporary British theatre's memorable performances. 

It seems odd to see such a physical actor as McBurney, gym-toned to near perfection with well-modelled arms bursting from a dirty singlet, playing the decrepit Clov, but he is convincing, particularly in the use of this implausible body to convey exhausted resentment and despair. Miriam Margolyes and Tom Hickey, as the dying parents Nag and Nell, reached — against the text, I thought — a touchingly pink-tinted, long-married and romantic tenderness for a few moments in their absurd conversation, which was surprising. However, a little of the sense of life's futility goes a very long way: the profound hopelessness and nastiness of Endgame always seems to me, for all its wit and eloquence, excessive and almost adolescent.

There's something adolescent about existentialism, it has always seemed to me. I suspect that some of its most famous exponents, such as Beckett himself, have not entirely embraced adult life, in the sense that they have been childless and have not had the respite from existential angst that children bring: ontological anxiety and an overwhelming sense of the absurd tend to fade upon parenthood.

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