The persistence of Memory is at the heart of Samuel Beckett's KRAPP'S LAST TAPE which we saw at the Duchess Theatre last week. Memory is a tricky thing. What is remembered and how much should it be revisited?
The decrepit Krapp, who we later learn is an author, every year on his birthday stirs himself from his torpor and records a message of what is happening to him. Consulting a dusty ledger (they must get through a lot of talc with two shows a night) he chooses a diary recording from when he was 39 and we listen along with him as his middle-aged self expounds on how his magnum opus will seal his status as a great writer and also his loss of a lover.
We were primed by the production manager - in person, mind, no recording ironically - to ensure that all phones and pagers had to be silenced before the play started. As the play's stony silence played out I have to admit that I was on the edge of my seat STRAINING for the silence to be shattered by a tinny version of "Single Ladies" or some such. Only when Gambon actually started speaking could I on some way relax... it was mental torture!I was intrigued by the production as I have never seen KRAPP'S LAST TAPE and it was a pleasure to let the richness of Beckett's poetry seep in and the clues to the mystery of Krapp's past being dropped along the way.
You need an actor at the top of his game to pull off the sheer concentration needed to keep the tension throughout and Gambon is certainly that. It was a fine performance but at no time did it surprise me - I got the performance I was expecting. Gambon's physicality was there as always - I did wonder however how many of those hand gestures were the same as press night as he loves to embellish - but I felt that director Michael Colgan had drawn the 'business' out to the nth degree so that, although, this was my first KRAPP - as 'twere - I could second guess each of the moves.
The Irish actor Patrick Magee was the inspiration for the piece and I would love to see an actor with his brillo-pad abrasiveness play the role, Gambon's mellifluous speaking voice was more Baileys than Sarsons.
Still, for all it's vague predictability, Gambon gave us a memorable miniature of lost chances and sorrowful regret.