Krapp’s Last Tape

A one-act play written by Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, Krapp's Last Tape first saw the light of day in 1958 starring Patrick Magee and directed by Donald McWhinnie. First entitled 'Magee Monologue', it premi�red as a curtain-raiser to Endgame at London's Royal Court Theatre and ran for 38 performances.

A one-act play written by Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, Krapp's Last Tape first saw the light of day in 1958 starring Patrick Magee and directed by Donald McWhinnie. First entitled 'Magee Monologue', it premi�red as a curtain-raiser to Endgame at London's Royal Court Theatre and ran for 38 performances.

Beckett's inspiration for writing the piece came from listening to Magee reading extracts from Molloy and From an Abandoned Work on BBC's Third Programme in December 1957.

Veteran music-hall artist, Max Wall, performed Krapp on a number of occasions, including a well-received production seen at London's Greenwich Theatre in 1975 directed by Magee while John Hurt and Harold Pinter have also taking on the role receiving critical acclaim.

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Now Michael Gambon (at the age of 69) strides back on to the London stage after a 'phantom' illness which kept him from Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art, stepping into Krapp's dirty old shoes with theatrical flair. He put in a remarkable and effortless performance which sees the first 15 minutes of this tight 50-minute production pass by without any spoken word. Silence is golden, especially for Krapp, it seems!

When the curtain rises we meet Gambon's Krapp in a semi-darkened room lit only by a low-voltage light bulb sprawled out over an empty desk seemingly lifeless. But the slight movement of one hand eventually comes into play and then the other reaching towards the light as if reaching to eternity. He comes alive - but looks like death!

Gambon's a polished and compelling performer and his portrayal of this defining role is riveting in so many ways not least by his large and imposing stature. His deep-etched craggy face, coupled with his wide baggy eyes and wild grey hair, attired in an ill-fitting, heavily-stained suit and shirt, fits well his character, showing a man not really bothered much about himself and in steep decline but not that far gone as not to want that final fling.

He rummages and shuffles round his narrow cell of a space as if in a drunken stupor while carefully skinning and having a bit of fun with a banana highlighted by the usual sexual references. He then pulls another one out from the draw of his desk, gently peels it and abruptly throws the flesh away keeping the skin.

But after this highly-amusing distraction, it's down to business, his yearly fling of nostalgia. It's tortured with pain and punctuated by a host of regrettable incidents and loss - of love, of parents, of life, of everything!

The white light hovering above his desk with the rest of the stage cloaked in darkness serves as a timely reminder of one's mortality. Krapp's overcrowded in his mind while his desk is overcrowded with a load of old recording truck comprising a stack of recorded tapes and a battered old Grundig reel-to-reel tape-recorder which is ready to go at the touch of a button.

And at the touch of that button we eavesdrop on a recording he made as a sprightly young man of 39. As he gets comfy to listen to it, he accidentally knocks something off the desk. Annoyingly, he goes into a wild rage with Gambon quite frightening in its execution. He switches off the recorder cursing the intrusion before fussily rewinding the tape to restart and indulge in his 'once-a-year' treat.

The tape he's actually reviewing is the fifth tape in box 3. He reads aloud. But it's obvious that words alone are not really going to jog his memory. His face breaks into a slightly uneasy childish grin when saying the word 'spool'. He gets delight from it and as such it offers him a few seconds of pleasure. And yet more pleasure comes from larking about jumping in and out of the shadows as if in a childish game.

Gambon's skilful stagecraft and technique is of immense value in such a bare production as this particularly in such moments in which Krapp nervously fidgets with his pocket-watch as if waiting for the exact moment when he was brought into the world 69 years ago. And, indeed, waiting for the exact moment when to press that vital fast-rewind button to capture his lost youth.

When he does catches up with life, he's mumbling, fumbling and farting about recording his thoughts about the year gone by but finds he has nothing of any great value to say. He's finished! The game's up! Salvation, hopefully, is nigh!

The production - which comes direct from Dublin's Gate Theatre, directed by Michael Colgan - runs to November 20 with two performances daily from Tuesday to Friday, 7pm/8.15pm; Saturday, 3pm/8pm. No performances on Sunday or Monday. Booking: 0844 412 4659 or online at www.krappslasttape.co.uk

Travelling by train! Bus numbers 11 and 23 run frequently from Liverpool Street station to Aldwych. The Duchess Theatre is close by in Catherine Street directly opposite the Novello Theatre.

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