Samuel Beckett's Endgame was 'riveting' at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans

Endgame by Samuel Beckett is due to run at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans from May 18 to May 22.

Endgame by Samuel Beckett played at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans from May 18 to May 22. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

The plays of Samuel Beckett can seem impenetrable so it is to the credit of the Company of Ten that they managed to make Endgame so riveting.

The St Albans theatre company’s first live production in the Abbey Theatre since the last lockdown, Endgame was a bold choice in the wake of a pandemic.

For while it has elements of humour and, of course, Beckett’s wonderful use of language, it is essentially about the finality which follows a nihilistic life.

So it is not the most life-affirming subject, particularly after the last 18 months of COVID and the threat to the planet from climate change.

Samuel Beckett’s Endgame is on at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans

You were able to watch Samuel Beckett’s Endgame either live in the Abbey Theatre in St Albans or as a livestream at home. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

But in terms of drama it is fascinating.

Like all the works of great playwrights, it stands and falls on the passion of both the director and the actors.

And director Derek Coe, a self-confessed lover of all things Beckett, must have been delighted by the strength of his cast.

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Matt Hughes-Short, who has proved himself time and again to be a huge asset to the Company of Ten, excelled in the role of Hamm.

Blind and in a wheelchair, we meet him with his face covered and his body shrouded in a blanket.

And that facelessness is what he chooses to return when the end comes.

Performances of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame take place on the Abbey Theatre main stage from Tuesday, May 18 to Saturday, May 22

Performances of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame took place on the Abbey Theatre main stage from Tuesday, May 18 to Saturday, May 22. Performances were also live streamed. - Credit: Abbey Theatre

But in the 70-plus minutes when he faces his audience with his face uncovered, his performance was a revelation from his treatment of his limping retainer Clov, to his despised father Nagg, and the woman we assume to be his mother, Nell.

That is both the mystery and allure of Beckett’s work and Endgame is no exception.

The audience is rarely given anything resembling a back story and is left to speculate about the significance of the characters.

Ian Jordan was also first-rate as Clov, forever at Hamm’s beck and call, no matter how badly he is treated.

As he hobbled his way around a sparse stage resembling a chessboard, he is either up a ladder looking out at two windows that appear to show nothing or moving the irascible Hamm’s wheelchair to the exact centre of the stage as instructed.

In two boxes were veteran actors Dewi Williams as Nagg and Angela Stone as Nell.

Why they are housed there we don’t know, but there is a tenderness about their relationship which is a redeeming feature of the play.

Endgame demonstrated that despite the difficult recent months, the Company of Ten is still as willing and able to tackle the work of one of the most revered – and incomprehensible – playwrights of all time.