Given that the work of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett can be taxing enough onstage, playwright and screenwriter Conor McPherson has done a creditable job filming the wordsmith’s 1957 chamber piece about frustration and irascibility, “Endgame.” But while hard-core devotees may tune in, general audiences will find this impenetrable exercise leaves them, well, frustrated and irascible.
Like much filmed theater, the principal function of this and other entries in Channel Four’s “Beckett on Film” series likely will be to provide a textbook example of the play for drama students, replete with superlative performances. Beyond that, it appears destined to be confined largely to cultural broadcaster skeds.
Set in a dimly lit room with a single window onto the world outside, the one-act play parallels the fruitless final moves of a chess game in which the outcome already is decided with the final stages of life, as death is ushered in by senility, dependence and decrepitude.
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Largely a two-character piece, it centers on demanding, blind invalid Hamm (Michael Gambon) and his harassed, resentful servant, Clov (David Thewlis), with Hamm’s “accursed progenitors” (Charles Simon, Jean Anderson), occasionally interjecting a feeble comment or two from the sidelines, where they are confined to trash cans.
Rendered in an efficient, straightforward style by McPherson and simply shot within the claustrophobic space by Donal Gilligan, “Endgame” inevitably is performance-driven. Playing characters embittered by years of extreme proximity, Gambon and Thewlis bite into the dense dialogue and relentless bickering with ferocious aplomb as Clov laboriously negotiates his exit from the old man’s life. Attention is further concentrated on the cruel verbal swordplay by the total absence of music.