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  • Chris O'Rourke

Krapp's Last Tape


Stephen Rea in Krapp's Last Tape. Image by Patricio Cassinoni.


****

There’s something eminently attractive in the combination of Stephen Rea, Landmark Productions and Samuel Beckett’s 1958 classic Krapp’s Last Tape. Beckett’s one man masterpiece performed by one of Ireland’s foremost performers, produced by one of its outstanding companies enough to whet any appetite. Yet despite powerful moments, superb staging and strong directorial decisions, the end result can feel a little like foreplay starting to get you there only for your partner to announce they’ve already arrived. Which is not to say Krapp’s Last Tape is an anti-climax so much as not quite the full bodied experience it might have been.


Which probably has as much to do with expectations and anticipation as with director Vicky Featherstone’s choices. The collaboration of Featherstone and Rea, outstanding in Cypress Avenue, setting the expectations bar high. Yet exchanging a realist context for a liminal space takes its toll even as staging is again steeped in bleak minimalism. The grey rectangular table of Jamie Vartan’s set bathed in Paul Keogan’s rectangle of grey light. Sharp edged shafts of expressionist white, like a bridge to a door over a darkened abyss, reinforce the surrounding darkness. In which Krapp doesn’t act so much as react, either understatedly as he listens to recordings of himself from long ago, or over theatrically as he moves about. Heavy theatrical sighs, forced laughs, examining his pocket watch to press home the pressures of time all gestures that look large and clunky. Krapp unconvincingly wrestling to eat a banana dealt with via cartoonish gestures that overcook the action. Around which the deadening space and darkening silence thicken.

Stephen Rea in Krapp's Last Tape. Image by Patricio Cassinoni.


Much has been made of Rea recording Beckett’s text twelve years ago, used here to modest effect, as if it were recorded by Krapp himself. Still, if it’s a conceit, it’s a tidy one that opens up additional connections as the limits of language set the limits of meaning. Krapp’s diary-like revisiting of selective moments speaking to time and its passing. To the making of memories of who we are, were and never could be. To small, insignificant moments signifying everything and judged to be nothing. Love, death, hope, loss. The wisdom of age made as foolish as youth for thinking itself wise. Krapp’s last tape, like a dying grasp at substance, telling yet another story about the other story.


Struggling to eat a banana, Rea might evoke Beckett’s love for the silent era comedy, but it’s less Chaplin so much as a cartoon version of Chaplin. Katie Davenport’s glorious white boots reinforcing the cartoon visual. Still, if its minimal visual vocabulary and emotional neutrality don’t always prove satisfying, they make for a fresh, intriguing and challenging production. Krapp’s Last Tape a fitting choice for Landmark Productions to launch their celebration of two exceptional decades in the business. Landmark, as with Beckett, Rea and Featherstone, reminding you that you might not like everything they do, but you can’t ignore them, and much of it you are sure to love as they help set the standards for great Irish theatre. Here’s to many more years of entertainment and provocation to come.


Krapp’s Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett, produced by Landmark Productions, runs at The Project Arts Centre until February 3rd.


For more information visit Project Arts Centre or Landmark Productions


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