This excellent production of Beckett’s 1958 monologue from the Gate Theatre,
Dublin, provides a different interpretation from two recent, equally strong versions
seen in London.|
Whereas John Hurt’s performance was full of pathos and Harold
Pinter bristled with anger, here Michael Gambon stresses the precarious mental health
of a man who has slowly withdrawn from the world into misanthropic isolation.
Although Krapp’s Last Tape is arguably Beckett’s darkest, most
pessimistic play with seemingly no hope for the protagonist, as always the poetic precision of his language
and his austere theatricality, combined with unsentimental compassion and flashes of
black humour, make it compelling to watch.
The beauty of the piece is that it presents a distilled account of Krapp’s whole
adult experience, a rewind through key moments before, one feels, he embraces
a longed-for death. As he prepares for the annual ritual of recording a tape on his
birthday – a sort of testament in which he tries to make sense of his meaningless life
– the 69-year-old Krapp listens to a tape that he made thirty years ago, which in turn
was recorded after listening to an earlier tape. With Krapp’s youth, middle age and
old age all present simultaneously, we can trace his terminal decline as all his hopes
We hear fragments about the failure of this writer’s ‘opus magnum’, his mother’s
death and the painful ending of a relationship after which he bids ‘farewell to love’,
which we try to piece together like a jigsaw. Although much is elliptical, it is clear
that Krapp, who scorns what he regards as the naïve illusions of his younger self, is
intent on stripping away all attachment to life in what amounts to a gradual suicide.
In a superbly physical performance, Gambon easily holds our attention
throughout the 55 minutes, including the first, silent quarter of an hour in which
expressive body language speaks volumes. With his head slumped on a desk, he
rouses himself from a lethargic stupor, reaching towards the overhanging light, before
looking around dazed and confused as if he has lost all sense of identity.
A playful side is shown in the very deliberate way he steps over the peel of a
banana he has just eaten and in his childlike delight in elongating the word ‘spooool’,
but a real feeling of bitterness emerges when he violently throws all the boxes onto
the floor. This Krapp may be eccentrically egotistical, but it is impossible not to be
moved when we see the emotion flickering on Gambon’s face as he listens to his own
voice evoking painful memories. At the end, he is speechless again: having curtailed
his last tape he has nothing more to say.
Artistic Director of the Gate Michael Colgan oversees with sensitivity in this
minimalist staging, while James McConnell’s spot-on lighting progressively contracts
so that by the end only a small pool of light is focused on Krapp, before darkness
swallows him up.
For more theatre reviews, come and visit us at Exeunt
Antonioni Project, Barbican
Du Goudron et des Plumes, Barbican
King Lear, Roundhouse
Double Falsehood, Union
Twisted Tales, Lyric Hammersmith
Less Than Kind, Jermyn Street