Passion / House Of Games / Design For Living / Krapp's Last Tape
Various venues
September, 2010
The shows covered in this issue which I saw but did not review for the Financial Times included Design For Living, House Of Games, Krapp’s Last Tape and Passion.  Of those four, I felt warmly only about Passion… and that, as many reviewers have noted, is a feeling more of admiration than affection: it’s not a show that gives itself to being loved with anything like the intensity its own characters display.  (I’ve recently taken to posting single-tweet reviews on Twitter of every show I see – my Twitter username is @ianshutters – and it’s been interesting to observe my own behaviour and see how the pressure for succinctness, the attempt to convey the essence of a production in a mere 140 characters, can lead to flippancy.  In the case of Passion, I tweeted that “it’s not one of the Sondheims with a tune”… which is a glib way of putting it, but is fundamentally no different from the views expressed with more elegance by Quentin Letts, Henry Hitchings and the Pauls Callan and Taylor in their reviews.)


Of the other three, I felt that Richard Bean’s Mamet adaptation was an agreeable revisitation but no substitute for the erstwhile Chicago bull’s original screenplay; like several reviewers, I felt similarly entertained by Design For Living, especially Andrew Scott’s performance and the central drunk scene, but had no sense of the erotic and emotional intensity that the central trio supposedly share.  My greatest surprise, though, was Krapp’s Last Tape.

Michael Gambon is, by common consent, a towering actor.  (The Stage newspaper, perhaps a little too keen to generate stories of its own, is currently running a reader poll regarding the greatest stage actor of all time – I mean, there can’t be that many of its readers who actually saw Sarah Bernhardt, let alone David Garrick, so how informed can the result be? – and Gambon is one of the front runners.)  His power and vitality (strange word to use about a Beckett performance, but even so) are clearly apparent in everything from his initial stillness onstage to his subsequent little games as he discovers the limits of the lit area on the stage, stepping in and out of shadow as if mutely commenting on the Beckettian universe.  That honey-and-nuts voice is also used to great effect on the tape recordings in the play.  Yet when he came to speak his “live” lines as the 69-year-old Krapp, I couldn’t help feeling he was being somewhat perfunctory:  rather faster than one expects with Beckett (Not I aside), and not giving full weight to them.  A surprising and disappointing experience, and not one of the more solid Krapps I have experienced.


Of course, some things are best passed over rapidly.  At a recent National Theatre press meeting, Nicholas Hytner referred to a particular vitriolic review of Blood And Gifts which seemed not to grasp the difference between fictional characters’ remarks and theatre policy.  Hytner was asked whether he responded to the review; no, he replied, “because we were faintly embarrassed for him.”  The identity of this reviewer is, as they say, left as an exercise for the reader…

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2010

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage