Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett

Revolutionary? Obtuse? Bleak? There are several tattered tags attached to Samuel Beckett. For Irish audiences, the name reverberates in a manner similar to the Bard’s across the water: a nationally celebrated and iconic playwright but one who is a tad intimidating. There must also be a couple of uninitiated in an audience who watch heads emerge from amphorae in the dark or an actress buried up to her neck in sand, and, despite genuflecting to Beckett’s celebrity, wonder guiltily whether the whole thing is an elaborate, inaccessible jape. Fergus Cronin and Moving Still Theatre Company do their bit to juggle these various myths in their production of Krapp’s Last Tape for the 2009 Galway Arts Festival.

On many fronts, Krapp’s Last Tape is fairly conventional, as Beckett goes. Krapp, like many of the playwright’s protagonists, revisits the past in order to enlighten his present. Before recording his usual journal, after a couple of banana gags, he selects “spooools” from the pile of reel-to-reel tapes on his cluttered desk, and listens to recordings he had made thirty years before. In between shuffling off-stage to glug wine and other more mysterious rites, he listens to, reacts to and comments on what he hears. Fragments of Krapp’s insalubrious youth are uncovered and are then criticised by his own aged self. Krapp the younger had hopes: “a fire in me” and perhaps “a chance of happiness”. Krapp the elder is evidence of the sad reality that there was little meaning in all his life’s strutting and fretting. Still, the past, he concludes, may have been minutely better than the present. The future is not contemplated: Krapp is left staring into the audience; the performance space is sepulchrally dark around him.

Fergus Cronin may not have the purple nose specified in the script, but his is a bucolic, gurning, crenulated face – almost Beckett-like in its crevasses – that wordlessly also tells of a life well-lived. Cronin creates an apologetically grinning and self-conscious loner, aware of both his isolation and the audience's in NUIG’s Bank of Ireland Theatre. He is a big Krapp with a prop-forward’s torso and vast rustic hands which are highlighted by the shortened shirt-sleeves, and this is a physicality that not only helps make the clowning with bananas at the opening appositely pathetic but also emphasises the frailty of Krapp’s routine of shuffling to and fro: a giant cowed by life. Cronin’s movements are rightly considered and carefully choreographed just as the text is clinically specific.

Gruff and well-worn and deepest Dublin is the voice: perhaps foreign audience members, like this reviewer, struggled with the breadth of the accent at times, but it was a decision that grounded the character. This definitely Dub Krapp becomes an Everyman and his problems, his humanity are universalised.

Director Art O’Briain faces a prescriptive text in which most gestures, sounds, coughs, action, lighting and pauses are described extensively by the playwright. His own stamp on the work, particularly through moderating timing and tone, is generally sensibly conservative: with an eye out for the audience at all times, pauses are as brief as possible – once or twice implausibly so – and both he and Cronin, in their obvious affection for the piece, look for laughter wherever possible. Theirs is a policy that at least labels the work as accessible, without vastly diminishing its general sobriety and profundity.
  • Review
  • Theatre

Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett

13 – 26 July, 2009

Produced by Moving Still
In NUIG Bank of Ireland Theatre, as part of Galway Arts Festival

Directed by Art O’Briain

Lighting design: Pete Ray

With: Fergus Cronin