REVIEWER RATING: ★★★★
Krapp’s Last Tape is considered to be Samuel Beckett’s most autobiographical work and is said to have taken the Irish novelist and playwright approximately three weeks to complete. It was first produced by The Royal Court Theatre in London in 1958 and is now closing out Red Line Productions’ 2019 season at the Old Fitz.
A show only 50 minutes in length and featuring a spare text, it centres around a man on his 69th birthday (played by Jonathan Biggins). He’s in poor health and approaching the end of his life. After searching through the drawers of filing cabinets for an audio tape, Krapp sits at a table in his murky den and begins to play the tape on his reel-to-reel tape recorder. The tape is one of many he keeps in the den, each containing voice recordings he’s made over the years to document events and observations from specific times in his life, including his hopes and dreams.
On this occasion, Krapp first re-visits the tape recorded on his 39th birthday before listening to recordings from his earlier adult years. His commentary includes talk about his mother’s death, and a recording in which he comments on his musings in an earlier tape, which causes present-day Krapp to laugh along with himself. And then there’s a recollection of a woman on a small boat on a lake with whom he had a romantic encounter.
Near the end of the show comes a recording of the younger Krapp in which he considers whether his best years are already behind him then asserts he wouldn’t want that time back. But listening back to that recording, does the present-day Krapp continue to feel the same way or is he lamenting decisions made at an earlier age? Memory and regret, youthful optimism and sad reality are so exquisitely exposed through the human voice. These tapes are the time capsule of a life, but they record more than a series of events – they provide the catalogue of unfulfilled ambition and love.
Beckett’s inimitable examination of dwindling hopes, discontentment and compunction is both sad and funny, and it’s been faithfully realised in a wonderful production, directed by one of Australia’s leading theatre directors, Gale Edwards. Working with a script that contains more stage directions than dialogue, she and Biggins have done meticulous work bringing Beckett’s offbeat character to life in a presentation in which we laugh at and empathise with him.
Biggins’s manifestation of Krapp is beautifully conceived down to the last gesture. Costuming by Olivia Rowland ensures he looks precisely as Beckett’s script describes, but Biggins personifies the character perfectly, with clownlike physical qualities and quirks. With so little dialogue, he conveys with clarity the ailing man’s overriding melancholy and world-weariness at this point in his life. His detailed reactions to his recorded words tell us what we need to know.
Brian Thomson’s set primarily consists of a series of multi-drawer filing cabinets looming ominously over Krapp, filled with the memories of the life that has now passed him by. It actually feels as though the 60-seat Old Fitz theatre is the ideal venue for this production. Veronique Bennett’s sensitive use of lights helps to amplify the sense of Krapp’s loneliness in the room (and in the world).
It’s a rare treat to have such an acclaimed director working with such a gifted comedic actor in this intimate setting. This production of a Beckett classic leaves us hoping this collaboration will become a more regular occurrence.
Photo credit: John Marmaras
KRAPP’S LAST TAPE – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Cathedral Street, Woolloomooloo)
Season: Playing now until 14 December 2019
Times: Tues – Sat 7:30pm, Sunday 5pm, matinees Wednesday 11am and Saturday 2pm
Price: $65 Adult, $58 Concession