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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Krapp's Last Tape
New Ambassador's Theatre, January-March 2000

Screen actors of a certain ilk who kicked off their careers on the stage tend to revisit their first love if but fleetingly - and London's West End is a favoured platform as witnessed by recent appearances of luminaries as diverse as Charlton Heston, Nicole Kidman, Kevin Spacey and Alan Bates. Sometimes it's a good idea (Kidman), sometimes not (Heston).

On the odd occasion it becomes something more than good, as the applause proves in Krapp's Last Tape where John Hurt blows the dust off Samuel Beckett's eclectic one-man classic. Krapp shambles on, ill-shaven, shabby garb, spiky grey hair cropped like the playwright himself - reminiscent of John Mills' village idiot from Ryan's Daughter.

It's Krapp's birthday and before recording a message to himself, he listens to his younger selves on tape from anniversaries past. Hurt rambles comically through the set, props and slippery banana skins in the first speechless section, with Beckett's meticulous slapstick getting the laughs it deserves. By the time the reel-to-reel (should that be 'spool'?) tape-recorder is heaved on, you are perfectly set up to sit back and focus on the character's life and the actor inside him.

Working with Robin Lefevre's strong, no-frills direction, Hurt doesn't miss a trick in his timing. His first movements provoke instant amusement, his first words startle, he goes on to joust the 69-year-old birthday boy with his taped younger avatar like a master puppeteer.

But while Hurt has the cantankerousness down pat, he is a trifle hammy on the old age thing (all that OTT huffing and puffing and lugging stuff around) and so allows some of the irony to slip. There seems also to be an over-concentration on the physical and not enough on what ticks within, which is disappointing since Hurt's cinema and stage work embody the best of working from the inside out.

After seeing this production last year at the Barbican as part of the Gate Theatre Dublin's Beckett Festival, I felt that this unevenness stemmed from was at the time intended to be a very limited run of shows. Second time round, I must confess to being a tad disappointed that Hurt hasn't fleshed it out now that he's got more time on his hands to play with.

Still, the structure and principles of this play fit this actor like a glove, and not since the late, lamented Norman Beaton's demented TV version have I seen as powerful and moving a performance - the full impact of which hits you just as the final spotlight fades.

A hit for Hurt, and without doubt a treasure equally for the Beckett cognoscenti as for the theatrically curious. Broadway and beyond beckon.

Nick Awde

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Review - Krapp's Last Tape - Ambassadors 2000