Krapp’s Last Tape at the Tower Theatre
Samuel Beckett’s plays can be difficult to present: they’re dense, clever and rely on a heavy interplay of good timing, well-enunciated phrases and a sense of what is being said in the gaps between the words – very much like poetry, in fact. Robert Pennant Jones’s Krapp’s Last Tape is understated and effectively places the bulk of the emphasis on the actor – John Chapman – to deliver the necessary emotional depth and portray the character of Krapp. This results in a fittingly upsetting representation of ageing and the horrors that go along with it – a feeling of insufficiency, dashed hopes and fond, though fast fading memories.
The premise is mundane: on his 69th birthday, Krapp uses his old tape recorder to listen to one of the recordings he made in his earlier years when he turned 39, and he endeavours to make a new recording. Hearing his younger, much more self-assured and lively self causes a range of emotions in the ageing character, whose recent achievements include a failed novel and frequent visits with a prostitute. When he finally attempts the new recording, he quickly realises that he has little to say and that there isn’t much left to celebrate after another year of few highs and many lows.
The focus, as such, lies mainly with Krapp’s reactions to his younger self, and here Chapman shines. One can firmly feel the anger at a bygone version of himself, the longing for the lustrous adventures he enjoyed, the regrets at the missed opportunities – and the realisation that his current problems are very much a result of him ignoring obvious issues at an age when he still could have made a difference. Chapman’s representation feels honest and offers an entirely convincing interpretation of a confused and damaged Krapp, whose reactions perfectly portray the way people momentarily light up at gradually – though irrevocably – fading memories.
Pennant Jones’ Krapp is certainly not easy to watch; it’s a thoroughly unpleasant reality of life. It can feel heavy-going for anyone ageing, suffering from severe regrets, or both – but it is poignant and well presented by Chapman and certainly deserves a recommendation as a precise portrayal of old age. After the interval – the show being merely an hour long – the theatre presents a talk by Pennant Jones on the 60 years of Beckett plays at Tower Theatre, followed by an adaptation of extracts from the playwright’s Molloy (1955).
Krapp’s Last Tape is at the Tower Theatre from 25th January until 29th January 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.