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Posts Tagged ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’

There’s something wonderful about visiting a 70-seat underground theatre a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus, where you have to cross the stage to get to the loo, to see four world class actors, directed by the man who ran both the RSC and NT, in three Samuel Beckett plays – for a few pounds more than going to the cinema around the corner. I love this city.

Beckett wrote twenty-two stage plays, many of them one act, some as short as fifteen minutes. You don’t always (ever?) entirely understand them, but you can bask in the language and exercise your brain finding meaning. Always fascinating and intriguing, never dull, somewhat addictive. I’ve seen about two-thirds of them. Another two will come along in three weeks with four more great actors in a theatre with 997 more seats!

The first of this triple-bill is Krapps Last Tape, where a man sits at a table reading his diary of some thirty years before, digging out, listening to and occasionally commenting on the meticulously indexed reel-to-reel tapes which contain the audio record of his 40th year. Oh, and he eats bananas. I’ve been lucky enough to see John Hurt and Harold Pinter, and now James Hayes in this fascinating memory play.

In Eh Joe, a man sits on his bed in silence listening to a woman’s voice in his head, his face telling you everything you need to know about his feelings as he listens to her. You can’t take your eyes off Niall Buggy, so expressive, whilst the great Becket interpreter and scholar Lisa Dwan voices the woman. This was written for TV. I first saw it on stage with Michael Gambon in a theatre 10 times the size but watching Niall Buggy, a few feet away, his face projected live on the wall behind him, was mesmerising, a way more intimate experience. Another memory piece, looking back.

The best is saved until last. The Old Tune, a radio play adapted from a Robert Pinget stage play, where two men in their seventies meet one Sunday morning and sit on a bench reminiscing, as the noisy traffic passes by. They have clear recollections, though they often differ, a source of irritation and indignation for them and humour for the audience. Memory again, but lighter and funnier and performed to perfection by Niall Buggy as Gorman and David Threlfall as Cream, a thirty minute gem that fully justifies its move from radio to stage and will stay with me forever.

These three plays belong together as if they were written as companion pieces. Though each was originally in a different form, they were written only eight years apart in the late 50s / early 60s. Trevor Nunn stages them beautifully, with help from set and costume designer Louie Whitemore, sound designer Max Pappenheim and lighting designer David Howe.

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I decided on one blog for the Barbican’s International Beckett Season after I’d written about Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting for Godot (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/waiting-for-godot) so here’s the rest…..

Rough for Theatre I & Act Without Words II

I’d seen both of these short plays before, but their pairing, and the outdoor location, made this a very different and somehow more intense experience. In the first a blind man is playing, well scratching, his fiddle on the street when he is befriended by a one-legged man in a wheelchair. They seem to be exploring the possibility and potential mutual benefit of hanging out together.

The second piece starts with two men in sleeping bags. One is prodded by a rod from the side and proceeds to get out of the sleeping bag and dress, an agonising process which takes an age. After he undresses again and returns to his bag, the second man does the same, except he’s quicker and the process is easier, with more than a touch of OCD. When he returns to his bag, the first man starts again as the play ends. Both characters are mute.

They took place in the Barbican Estate, the first outside St. Giles Cripplegate and the second by a small lake nearby. The evening sounds – planes, a helicopter, birds, passers-by, children playing, a distant choir – all seemed part of it. It was a lovely evening and rather a unique experience and the performances by Trevor Knight in the first, Bryan Burroughs in the second and Raymond Keane in both were superb.

All That Fall

When I saw this radio play on stage 2.5 years ago, I wondered what it would be like on the radio (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/all-that-fall). Well, this was the next best thing – listening to it siting in a rocking chair in a carpeted Pit Theatre, with gentle orange light emanating from lots of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. We’re all facing the same direction, a wall of orange spotlights, and that’s it. The spotlights sometimes shine, in differing configurations, and the overhead bulbs come on and off, bright and dim, but it’s also pitch black at times.

The experience didn’t really live up to the excellence of the idea, I’m afraid, adding too little value to what I would imagine it’s like listening at home. The answer to my earlier question appears to be that it’s better staged after all, even if that wasn’t Beckett’s intention.

Krapp’s Last Tape 

This sits alongside Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Happy Days as one of only a quartet of Beckett’s ‘fully formed’ pieces and actors are understandably attracted to the monologue of a 69-year-old man looking back and listening to his annual recordings as he begins the final one. American avant-garde artist Robert Wilson has lengthened it by 20 minutes. It begins with a long period of very loud rain and thunderstorms with a mute Krapp in clown-like make-up on stage eating two bananas. He eventually sits at his desk, though it then didn’t feel like any other performance of this piece. I can’t be sure, but there seemed to be a lot less dialogue, both live and recorded. The vast Barbican stage had high level windows on three sides, what looked like cages at the rear and tables with boxes and papers on both sides. Everything is monochrome, except Wilson’s red socks. It’s a very different playing space to any other I’ve seen this piece in.

He had a lot to live up to as I’ve seen Max Wall, Harold Pinter, John Hurt and Michael Gambon as Krapp, and he didn’t. I was surprised that someone as precious about his work as Wilson would take such liberties with someone else’s, especially as he knew Beckett. I was also surprised the Beckett estate didn’t intervene as they have in the past (Deborah Warner’s Footfalls, to name but one). This is Wilson’s Krapp, not Beckett’s.

I missed the brief visit of Lessness and had seen Lisa Dwan’s Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby at the Royal Court (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/not-i-footfalls-rockaby), so that’s it!

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