DramaLondonReview

Beckett Triple Bill (Krapp’s Last Tape/ Eh Joe/ The Old Tune) – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Reviewer: Margarita Shivarova

Writer: Samuel Beckett

Director: Trevor Nunn

A well-crafted production capable of throwing oneself in the dark dungeons of self-reflection, alienation, fear, denial and reconnection to the past all seen and felt through the prism of memories. Trevor Nunn puts up a rich emotional translation of the similarities and differences between three of Samuel Beckett’s plays produced in his mid-40s and late 50s. The depth of character embodiment by all four actors masterfully keeps the audience’s focus on the moment even when things don’t turn out to plan.

The moderately paced Krapp’s Last Tape which gives a start to the Beckett marathon can both amuse and amaze by concept and delivery. The minute one sees Krapp (James Hayes), a skinny, at times heavy-breathing, banana addicted elderly, walking with a stoop, one cannot help but smile. The child-like crying look on his face complimented by deep sighs sets a mood of sadness right until the bitterness and self-disgust inside a man on the edge of 70 kick any sense of fiction out the door. In exploring his voice recording from 30 years ago Krapp holds the audience in a timeless spectrum between the present and the past. The spikes of anger, grief and melancholy James Hayes portrays with such ease one can almost see the present man in his past and the long-gone Krapp living in the present.

Likewise, heavily reliant on facial expressions, Niall Buggy steals away any established sense of black and white and instead plays against a veil of ghostly voice unravelling Joe’s demons. The second play demonstrates what a brilliant combination of sound effects and immaculate stillness in a character can do in delivering a thriller-like experience. Being the play with most demanding set on stage amongst the three, at the start one couldn’t help but imagine a more active use of the bed, the drawers and window throughout. Instead, one is successfully kept still in the same grasp the character lives through – a full-body paralyses caused by fear, unease and despondency. Lisa Dwan’s voice carefully distinguishes between the weight of every word, thus giving the desired impression that the supernatural is in control throughout the play. The simultaneous projection of Joe’s close up on the wall incredibly well adds onto the suspense and in cutting the accusations thrown at him so that the audience could feel his soul and consciousness crunch with each one.

After an intense hour and a half, a cheer up pill is much needed. The Old Tune duo Mr Gorman (Niall Buggy) and Mr Cream (David Threlfall) know how to take one on a journey of reminisce. The seamless chemistry between the two actors of such calibre settles a feeling of safety post the inwardly disturbing first two plays. If the minor disruption caused by technical issues with the barrel organ are forgiven, the sound of motor cars and a simple tune have profound effect on the character’s underlying emotional state. The play is a constant battle between a struggle to remember what the two old men did or talked about minutes ago, yet fiercely defending “the wisdom of the ancient” against “scientific progress”.  We are yet to see if such a phase in life, so comical today, is to be experienced at all by 21st-century generations immensely focused on living in the present.

Undeniably it is the themes of age and memory that weld the three pieces together. Equally, there is a strong reference to a leitmotif of the inescapable changes we undergo as creatures constantly interacting and adapting to the world that surrounds us. In order to become relatable and thought-provoking, the beauty of such deep material is seeing it performed with ease, a task accomplished by the cast and crew of the production.

Runs until 8 February 2020

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