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Krapp's Last Tape

Play review : Krapp's Last Tape

By amjj.goulden amjj.goulden

Thursday=theatre night. On the programme last week: Michael Gambon in Beckett’s Krapps’ Last Tape. According to the rave revues, this was going to be a guaranteed great night out. And so it is that, inspired by these “experts”’ verdict, I gathered up my little band of brothers (ten unsuspecting viewers in all) and excitedly marched along to the Duchess Theatre to see the wondrous play.

Let me just state that I was entirely unfamiliar with Krapp’s Last Tape before that evening: never read it, never seen it. I feel I need to say this in order to exonerate myself from what I subsequently made my ten friends sit through.

Rather naively, I thought that the whole thing had started off promisingly when I called to book the tickets and was asked by the friendly girl whether I wanted the 7 o’clock or the 8 o’clock show. Two séances in one evening? “What an actor!”, thought I, “What a performer!”.

The night itself: the curtain comes up: a desk, a chair, a man. No bins this time,- unlike Endgame- just a starkly minimalist set. In other words: typically Beckett.

And there on stage is our leading man, sat on the chair and slumped over the desk…frozen.

One minute goes by, then two, then three… four… five minutes have gone by and still nothing.

Remind me again how old Michael is? I’m feeling the need to check he’s still definitely breathing (what? It’s been known to happen!). I’m thankfully reassured by a heavy intake of breath. And yet…still nothing.

It is just getting close to the ridiculous mark when suddenly I spot a movement. Yes, he has moved a finger. What’s this, another one!? Oh yes, and a hand, and even an arm! Slowly the long arm lifts the hand up to the head and the fingers begin to meticulously …yes, I’m seeing this right: delouse his hair.

Finally, the delousing finished, our now distinctly ruffled man gets up and begins to pace around his desk, one hand tapping all four corners on his orbit. Finally some noise: tap tap tap tap in one direction, tap tap tap tap in the other. Ten minutes have now gone by since the curtain call. One thing’s for sure: little Frenchy here is having no problems of translation. I am understanding every movement!

Wait, he’s stopped. It’s a draw. He opens it, rummages around a bit…nope wrong one. He shuts it violently. Off he goes again: tap tap tap tap, round he goes until he spots another draw…opens it…what suspense! He rummages again…and finally, oh joy, success! It’s… a banana.

So, he delicately peels the fruit, carelessly chucking the peel on the floor (pity this isn’t the play with the bins) and eats it. This is breath-taking stuff.

As he continues to munch away he opens a third draw (this desk is decidedly full of secrets!) and it’s…another banana. He quickly peels and gobbles it down, all the while carrying out a few mimics around his treasured fruit. What a performance. And still no bin! Careful Michael, banana skins are slippery!

Thirteen minutes in and I’m so captivated I’ve even managed to do a few sums in my head: 2 showings x 2 bananas x 6 evenings= 24 bananas a week. Watch out Gordon Brown, there’s a new contender on the block for biggest consumer of the plantanes!

Fifteen minutes have now gone by and still no more than a bit of miming and pacing. At least during silent films, music was played to add to the atmosphere. Sorry, I forgot this was Beckett: the subject is serious, as is the artist!

Oh wait, it’s getting exciting, there’s been a change of direction and he’s now heading back-stage to fetch…please God not another banana… But no: it’s a tape recorder! And so the plot thickens. He opens another draw. How many bloody draws does this desk have!? Thank god it’s not another blasted banana; instead he pulls out a tape. Finally, twenty minutes in and the play’s title is finally beginning to make sense.

He slides the tape in, plugs and assembles the lot and…sits back down. He looks at us. Here we go, any minute now and he’s going to speak !

No such luck. He simply presses the button and the tape begins to play. A young Michael Gambon’s  voice rings out and begins to talk us through his memories. The voice is clear, pleasant, no crackly recording. Finally something nice! Our leading man, meanwhile, stays frozen to his desk as he takes in his past.

As the tape winds down, so do the memories, and with that Krapps gets up.  Hang on, he’s sitting down again…no wait, he’s up and going backstage to pour himself a glass of something.  When he returns it’s to plug a microphone into the tape-recorder: are we finally getting some live action? Yes! Almost a whole sentence! But this proves too much and irritated he chucks the microphone and… plays the tape again. His life has passed him by, or rather he’s passed it by and us with it. With that the curtain finally falls.

50 minutes of waiting not for Godot, but for Michael’s voice to ring out on stage.

Looking at the positive side of the experience, at least there were ten of us, which meant that we got the tickets for £25 rather than £35. Using a quick bit of basic arithmetic, by my calculations: £35+6 (transport) + £4(can of coke and some peanuts), and the evening would have cost a grand total of £45. With all of 20 words spoken the entire play, that equals a staggering cost of £2.25 per word. It would seem that Michael Gambon, silence is quite literally golden.


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