Until May 8 (Belvoir St Downstairs)
Samuel Beckett is right up there with Pinter as a frequently-invoked god amongst modern theatremakers, and it seems unlikely he’ll go out of fashion any time soon. In 2007 Dublin’s Gate Theatre brought out a trilogy of Beckett for Sydney Festival; in 2009 we saw Malthouse and Company B’s production of Happy Days tour the east coast; this year Sir Ian McEwan is headlining Waiting for Godot at the Opera House.
For me, the prospect of a Beckett play evokes a certain heaviness of heart, and the feeling of girding one’s loins for battle with the dreaded abyss of existential angst. The End, however, brings out Beckett’s gifts as a storyteller, and his beautifully evocative use of language, full of unexpected descriptive flourishes. Of course, the existential angst is still overwhelmingly present – this is, after all, a work about death.
The End is one of four first-person novellas written by Beckett in the five years following WW2, around the same time as his trilogy of novels – and before Godot. In The End, an elderly man released from an institution finds himself adrift in a world where he has no function. With a little money in his pocket, and the clothes on his back, he finds lodgings, and waits for the money to run out – and enters the slow physical and mental decline of the end.
Robert Menzies is a fantastic performer, and a good choice for the role of the mentally fractious vagrant. With Beckett’s script in hand, he delivers a poignant monologue that, at its best, takes us on a vivid journey from the rain-soaked cloister to the fetid basement where he lodges, a cave by the sea, a blood-and-semen-soaked woodland cabin, and his final resting place, in a rat-infested boat, covered in his own excrement.
The challenge of this work is making it more than an aural performance – and on the second night of the season, I am not sure Menzies and director Eamon Flack (A Midsummer Night’s Dream – B-Sharp 2009) had quite achieved that. Yet. But until it comes out on CD, I recommend The End as a 70-minute journey worth every penny of the fare.