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Krapp's Last Tape

Samuel Beckett
Barbican Pit
(2006)

John Hurt in Krapp's Last Tape

The final play in the Beckett Centenary Festival is exemplary. This co-production between the Gate in Dublin and the Barbican is founded on a perfectly balanced triumvirate, the 100 year-old writer, his director Robin Lefevre and actor John Hurt.

For an hour, one is plunged into a life, viewed obliquely but, by the end, intimately and painfully understood thanks to the spareness of the text and the pacing of the performance.

John Hurt's initial appearance is a surprise, since he looks uncannily like the playwright towards the end of his life, with a face looking not so much lived in as walked over.

We get plenty of time to view him and hear his creaking boots, since the first ten or so minutes of the play are given over to a mime during which the 69 year-old Krapp thaws himself out, eats a couple of phallic bananas and generally prepares himself to face not just another day but the terror of yet another birthday.

Mime is actually the key to this play since the spoken text, as opposed to the recorded one, is insubstantial.

Krapp's Last Tape is rather like a series of diminishing mirrors or paintings within paintings, as the protagonist listens to a tape that he had recorded thirty years before, also on his birthday, during which he deprecates his comments on a birthday tape from even further back. This provides the opportunity for him to contemplate the pleasures and lacunae of his existence, as it draws towards a closure.

Surprisingly and almost unnoticed, one finds a deep knowledge of the loneliness of this man's life building up. This is enhanced by talk of the youth lost to drink or at least the licensed premises where it is taken; a middle-age where love is lost; and as we see, old-age almost too close to madness to tell the difference.

The joy of Robin Lefevre's production lies in an epic performance from John Hurt in which every move, even his use of a handkerchief, seems perfectly choreographed so that by the end of the play, we see a damaged, isolated soul with great clarity. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher