Krapp’s Last Tape at the Barbican
Rounding off the Barbican’s Samuel Beckett season was Krapp’s Last Tape. As a highly stylised performance it has somewhat of a polarising effect; one is left feeling unsure whether it’s an absolute masterpiece or a hopelessly flawed attempt at truly differentiating its production from the many that have come before.
The 1958 play is one act long, and at a mere one hour and ten minutes is a signature of Beckett’s minimalist period. A one-act monodrama, it features Krapp on his 69th birthday performing his lonely annual tradition – recording his past year on tape. This year he first listens to some agonising recordings made 30 years ago, tortured by the agonising memories they evoke.
The role of Krapp, which has attracted the likes of Michael Gambon and John Hurt in the past, is taken up by Robert Wilson, who also directs the production. Renowned for his unconventionality and use of a variety of artistic media such as dance, lighting and sculpture, he also serves as set designer and head of lighting concept. Dressed as scripted in a black waistcoat and trousers too short for him, his attire is given a thoroughly shocking twist as his face is painted a striking white. Paired with the blue lighting, it gives the remarkable impression of a minimalist painting every time he dramatically freezes in action. Yet therein lies the flaw of the production: it has a dangerous tendency to put style before substance.
Impatient fidgeting was visible from the audience as the opening act of eating two bananas, a brilliant way to show the banality of his life as an old man, was stretched out for an incredibly stylish but ultimately tiring 20 minutes. There was a collective sigh of relief when Wilson finally allowed Krapp to speak and the production could at last draw us in.
Despite the fact that Wilson can’t seem to resist adding strange moments of misplaced sound effects and jarring laughter, once the play truly gets going, it makes for an emotive piece offering plenty to respect and enjoy. While it may be more popular with those partial to modernism, there is universal accessibility; the torture of past memories and their intangible allure is known by us all.
Krapp’s Last Tape was on at the Barbican until 21st June 2015, for further information visit here.