Producer Sonia Freedman now has two brand new shows with Beckett as their focus. After Calico in which he is one of the characters, Endgame returns to London in a production with an odd pairing in the leading roles.
Sir Michael Gambon is one of our theatrical greats while Lee Evans started life as a Perrier Award-winning comedian and has reached the theatrical stage via film. Having finally got there, he will be seen by a large number of people both in Endgame and his next project, the long-awaited London arrival of Mel Brooks' The Producers.
Endgame, with its chess metaphor, is a meditation on the later stages of life and on death. This Rob Howell-designed production, well lit by Mark Henderson, looks like a Francis Bacon painting with its suffering chair-bound central character, a younger man and a couple of occupied dustbins.
At first sight, Evans' Clov, both mentally and physically handicapped, is uncannily reminiscent of Norman Wisdom. He is the slave of Sir Michael's tyrannical, blind, crippled Hamm who also bullies the almost dead, dust-bin dwelling couple, Geoffrey Hutchings and Liz Smith as Nag and Nell.
It is the mutual dependency between Hamm and Clov that Matthew Warchus brings out as whether they love or hate each other becomes irrelevant.
This post-nuclear world offers little cheer but in true Beckett style, these people manage to endure and live. They may be frustrated but that does not mean that their lives are completely unhappy and empty.
Sir Michael is magisterial and sounds like a Shakespeare lead as Hamm, while Evans is physically funny. Warchus ensures that the two stars' timing and that of the elemental Nagg allow the grim humour to emerge in what should prove a popular production.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version
Reviewer: Philip Fisher