Writer: Samuel Beckett
Director: Polly Findlay
Reviewer: Ray Taylor
This iconic masterpiece, written in 1958 for a solo performer, here receives the treatment it deserves in a brilliant all-round production. Krapp, played by Richard Wilson, is an old batchelor and it is his sixty-ninth birthday. For many years he has recorded his birthdays on tape as if it were a diary. He keeps the reels in boxes, carefully labelled (“box three, spool five”) so that much of his life can be recalled by his own voice. The majority of the play is Krapp listening to his thirty-nine year old voice from thirty years before and ruminating on his past life and loves, his hopes and dreams.
In Beckett’s own stage directions there is an emphasis on the contrast between light and dark which is dramatically brought out here right at the outset by the audience taking their seats in semi-darkness and by Krapp’s den being starkly lit by an overhead lamp at one point, and being plunged into total darkness the next (when he guiltily drinks his whisky). There are also times when Krapp peers out into the dark night or even into the dark corners of the room as if knowing that the grim figure of Death will be hovering there.
The den itself is brilliantly designed as a cage-like structure that is constantly very slowly revolving. This serves a practical purpose for an audience in the round but, aesthetically, also highlights Krapp’s isolation in a world that is moving to a different tempo from the life he is living. Krapp’s den is truly a cage in which he is trapped, pacing round the cluttered small space, opening and closing draws, turning the overhead light on and off, living out his life through his tapes.
The challenges this play poses for the solo actor are not so much in the amount of dialogue to learn – most of this is, by definition, pre-recorded on tape – but in the movement, concentration and timing required to convey Krapp’s life up to the point we, as the audience, are witnessing it. This starts as we arrive to take our seats. Krapp is already sitting in his den in contemplation and you sense that Wilson is already totally in character. This requires total concentration as the audience literally go right past his window (although he cannot hear any extraneous noise as the box is soundproof). For such a pessimistic play, there are still flashes of humour and comedy, mostly concerning bananas, and Wilson can be relied upon to make the most of these. There is also quite a lot of physical “business” to do – operating the tape recorder, eating bananas, unlocking drawers, moving around the den, peering out of the window – that might not sound very much, but have to be done just right in order to make the character convincing.
In her programme notes Polly Findlay says that the play is really a very clear, simple study of heartbreak and that she feels she will have succeeded if the audience can take that sense away with them. For this reviewer, at least, the experience will live long in the memory and will be just as haunting as Krapp listening to his own voice.
Runs until: Saturday 19 July 2014