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GEORGE SHEVTSOV Nothing Is Funnier Than Unhappiness

Samuel Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969 and is probably best known for his play Waiting for Godot. However, Beckett’s personal favourite was his absurd tragicomedy Endgame, which is being brought to the Heath Ledger Theatre by Black Swan Theatre from May 27 – June 11, opening this Saturday. Black Swan has welcomed the return of founding Artistic Director Andrew Ross to direct this four character play. NATALIE GILES spoke to one of the stars, all round nice guy and legend of Australian stage and screen, George Shevtsov.

George Shevtsov in Crawl (2011)

Some of our readers may not be overly familiar with Beckett’s work beyond Waiting for Godot, but his favourite was Endgame. You’ve now appeared in both. Can you help to break down Beckett in cliff notes?

(laughs) Ooh, you’re cheeky. There are traces of Godot in Endgame. They say that a writer just keeps rewriting the same work over and over again until they get it right. Endgame is a very different play, but with a lot of similarities – almost like those same four characters are just much older. It’s like they got off the hill and moved into a house (laughs). They’re just waiting in a different place now, but what they’re waiting for is slightly different to Godot, but those four characters are still waiting, and passing the time as they work out time.

He’s a struggle, old Beckett. He’s a mystery, so unravelling all that is interesting. Not just Beckett, I think every play is something you’ve got to unravel, and unpack then repack, and dismantle before putting it back together.

Endgame is a particularly dark play, all about despair and waiting for death. It doesn’t sound like particularly uplifting material (he laughs and interjects “well that’s putting it politely!”). So will audiences just leave feeling quite depressed?

There’s a line in the play – “nothing is funnier than unhappiness”. When you look at despair, and you look at the void, you’ve got to look at it with some hope, some courage and a lot of humour. It’s quite an extraordinary play, though, and looking at the human situation and the human dilemma in that way, with two in a dust bin, one in a wheelchair and one servant, in a little room where they’re waiting for the end. It’s quite fascinating. You could go out and see a musical and pretend that we don’t have all these problems in the world, where it looks like we are heading for disaster, but then we’ve been heading for disaster for some time and just haven’t quite got there yet. The prospect of the impacts on climate change where no government is willing to do anything about it, for instance. There isn’t much hope for the world but we can’t give up, can we? And whether the play is telling us to give up or not is for the audience to decide. There are horrors everywhere, so watching four people in a room, on a stage, is quite safe in comparison.

The future’s not looking good, but maybe seeing stuff that has a very bleak view of the world will prompt people to say “no, we don’t accept that, there is more and there can be more.”

Are you saying that this play could drive people to potentially seek out change?

Ostensibly, that’s why we have art, isn’t it? So that we can look at ourselves and not necessarily change, but maybe look at possibilities. I don’t think we go to the theatre or watch movies or read books to search for despair, but we are trying to keep searching for more and finding ways to break through and maybe find hope. Otherwise we would just lie down and do nothing, perhaps a little like the characters in the play.

Can you tell us a little about your long personal history with Black Swan?

I was in the first official Black Swan production, and I’ve done quite a lot of stuff with them over the years. At one stage I think that people were saying that I held the record for the most number of productions with them but I think that’s probably a record broken by other people by now. I was involved in the very early days, and it was a lot of West Australian adaptations of literature, and a lot of West Australian playwrights, both black and white, so it was a really terrific time. Andrew Ross had been working with indigenous actors for some time before forming Black Swan, so he continued that and we had a lot of very mixed casts of black and white actors. Doing that with Shakespeare for The Twelfth Night was a lot of fun. It was a very exciting time. Andrew Ross had a great vision in creating a uniquely Western Australian theatre, and I think he really succeeded with that.

Do you find being the isolation of being a WA based actor a bit of a disadvantage?

No! I love WA so much, and I love living here so where’s the disadvantage in that? But yes, work wise there’s not as much work here as there is in the east, but then you’ve got a lot more competition over there as well. Melbourne and Sydney are where everything is happening, in terms of film and television, so it’s a choice you make. I’m here purely because I love WA so. I spend half my time in the bush, because WA really does have the most extraordinary landscape with amazing things throughout it. I’m obsessed by it.

What advice would you give young West Australian film makers and actors?

Just do it. Then do it again and keep on doing it. In any way you can. Just work, work, work and learn, learn, learn. I guess you’ve got to create your own work if it’s not coming in. You find your people, and something comes out of that, whether it’s learning or gaining experience. Don’t just sit around and wait-go and study, or if there’s a film or theatre director you admire, just go and knock on their door and ask to help them. Learn from them. Make cups of tea if you must. Immerse yourselves in a stimulating environment and work for nothing. It’s hard, and technology and formats are changing things so it’s harder than ever. Find what invigorates you and gives you strength. But just don’t despair. And laugh. Play. Don’t forget that plays are call plays for a reason- they’re meant to be fun.

Further information and tickets head HERE

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