The Pit, London EC2
Opened 10 March, 1998

"I was only saying this afternoon," confessed Edward Petherbridge to his audience at the close of last Thursday evening's performance in The Pit, "never act with bananas or Grundigs." Earlier, a ten-minute adjournment had been called when Petherbridge's co-star in the Beckett piece, an elderly tape recorder, decided instead that it wanted to be Winnie's parasol in the same author's Happy Days, and began discreetly to emit smoke from its innards. (Of course, as Petherbridge also noted, "That's nothing to the grave-trap seizing up in Hamlet...")

Krapp's Last Tape is one of those Beckett plays which are more demanding than they appear, not simply in terms of precision but of actorly response: Krapp spends virtually half the time simply listening to his earlier, taped manifestation. Petherbridge and his co-director David Hunt create a slightly distracted Krapp, wild-eyed and wild-haired, impatiently flapping away the unexpected electrical smoke (!) and favouring a speedy delivery of phrases interspersed by long pauses rather than the more uniform groan of many Krapps. Indeed, little attempt is made to gruffen up the actor's characteristically silken tones; this is less a man raked with the bitterness of failure than one who has simply run out of steam and cannot tolerate the preciousness of his younger self. (He does speak with a gentle Leinster accent, raising especially on tape the unsettling possibility that one is in fact listening to Gay Byrne.)

Whereas Giles Havergal's recent Glasgow Krapp went relentlessly for every shred of pathos and pain, Petherbridge and Hunt's RSC version allows fairly free rein to the younger Krapp's lyricism in order that it may be briskly mocked and peremptorily dismissed by the ragged figure sitting beneath the solitary electric light.

Written for The Stage.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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