Krapp's Last Tape

Samuel Beckett
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Occasionally, even critics realise that they are privileged to have the opportunity to witness something that transcends a mere piece of drama.

This is a very special revival. If anyone could be said to be the perfect collaborator for a play by this year's centenarian Samuel Beckett, that man is Harold Pinter. The location is also fitting since this play made its English debut here and both men have had long connections with the Royal Court, currently celebrating the English Stage Company's Golden Jubilee.

The opening night audience symbolised the importance of the event, had there been any doubt, with the actor (this time around)'s wife, Lady Antonia Fraser in the front row, Sir Peter Hall (whose latest Waiting for Godot opened earlier in the week) not too far back and other big theatre names in an audience smaller than the actor's years.

Retiring Artistic Director Ian Rickson's production, which may prove to be a Court swansong for Pinter the actor as well as for himself, at times has the feel of a play by Harold Pinter. The opening and closing moments have those trademark long silences and others find their way into the 45-minute production.

The version is quite different from the John Hurt equivalent at The Barbican earlier in the year, with some of Beckett's distractions from the purity of the text, such as bananas, removed, which changes the balance of the piece but not necessarily to its detriment.

Pinter performs, sitting in an electric wheelchair on Hildegard Bechtler's bare set, representing a lonely life filled with missed opportunities. He is deliberately underlit by Paule Constable, who thereby ensures that all eyes rest on the actor.

From the start, Pinter entrances his audience with the intensity of his concentration and rasping voice. This is literally in yer face theatre as, even allowing for the desk that he shelters behind, Krapp is a mere six feet from the front row and therefore the audience almost enters into a (silent) dialogue with him.

He is mostly heard on the tape that the crotchety, Scrooge-like Krapp listens to on this anniversary, as he recollects his past, often in less tranquillity than he would like.

This evening primarily relies on words and facial expressions to portray one ordinary man's failures in life and love. There are though a couple of dramatic moments that help to express an old man's pent-up frustration perfectly, particularly one where he dramatically sweeps the contents of his shabby desk across the stage with an angry flourish.

Pinter shows that despite his recent life as a playwright and director, he is still a skilful actor, well up to playing this part and making the unhappy, resigned man entirely real.

By the end, one feels the painful hollowness of an unfulfilled life and can happily pay simultaneous tribute to two of the great men of the stage. Not to be missed even at £25 for three quarters of an hour's entertainment.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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