The Theatreguide.London Review
Krapp's Last Tape
Duchess Theatre Autumn 2010
Samuel Beckett's Krapp is one of those characters every actor puts his own stamp on, frequently an unconsciously self-revealing one.
A decade or so ago John Hurt made the old man charming and funny, more recently Harold Pinter defined him by icy bitterness. And now Michael Gambon, in a Michael Colgan-directed production imported from Dublin's Gate Theatre, presents one of the most tragic Krapps I've ever seen.
A reminder: an old man who has tape-recorded a birthday message to himself every year listens to one from three decades back, tries to record a new one, and discovers he has nothing to say.
What almost every actor finds in Krapp is a contempt for his younger self - ironically, the 39-year-old he listens to speaks with contempt of an earlier recording he had been listening to - and a resentment of the memories and feelings the old tapes stir up. The decision for the actor is how to have the character react to those feelings.
Gambon does full justice to the wry humour written into the role, with the fumbling with props, the pure slapstick with a couple of bananas and the momentary distraction of a fascination with the word 'spool'.
But the core of his interpretation is the man's unconscious yearning for the emotions and the living experiences he tries to convince himself he is happy to have left behind.
He underlines the way the old man reacts to his middle-aged self describing a sex-tinged romantic interlude. He sneers at it, preferring to report in his new recording of the occasional emotionless visits of an ageing slut.
But he does replay that particular episode three times, Gambon's face showing the yearning and envy his words and actions try to deny.
At the end of the play, as the voice on the tape says of those romantic moments 'I wouldn't want them back', we see the silent old man fully aware that they will never return, and stunned by the extent of his own pain.
Almost all Beckett's plays are ultimately about the indestructibility of the human spirit and how the emptiest of universes cannot keep mankind from living and feeling.
Krapp's Last Tape shows us a man who tries and fails to suppress his own humanity, and Michael Gambon makes that a deeply moving thing to witness.
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