Krapp’s Last Tape, at the Duchess Theatre

excuse me, is that a mobile phone i hear

Michael Gambon is on stage and has been for the past twenty minutes. He blinks, flinches, ambles, and has not even spoken. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is engrossed. Watching Samuel Beckett for the first time can be baffling, it’s like seeing a Damien Hirst exhibition for the first time where you’re left questioning, as the two artists want you to, on the point and pointlessness of art.


Director Michael Colgan directs the one-man 50-minute show. It tells the story of Krapp, it’s his 69th birthday, and he’s listening to recordings he made of himself 30 years earlier. Whilst this may sound depressing, and it certainly looks that way from the opener where Krapp is head down in hibernation at his table, there is a lot of subtle Larkin-like comedy throughout. Krapp playfully teases us: he steps in and out of the spotlight; does not trip up on a banana skin, in a post-modern move, as we expect him to from Beckett’s stage directions; and has a mix of elderly and child-like manners.


Max Wall, John Hurt, and Harold Pinter have previously taken on the role. Gambon’s grey hair, heavily lined face, and haggard body make him a perfect fit for the ageing character. He indulges in every word, delivers Beckett’s lines like poetry, and leaves a ghost-like presence with every step he makes. He is enticing, repulsive, and above all a tragic figure left holding his tape recorder like a cross between a baby and a lover. An unforgettable performance.


Runs till 20 November.


To see or not to see: * * * *

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