Review Round-up: Gambon Records Last Tape
Date: 24 September 2010
Krapp's Last Tape, Beckett's 50-minute monologue which was originally performed at the Royal Court in 1958 features Krapp who, each year on his birthday records a tape reflecting on the events in his life.
The play brings Michael Gambon back into the West End for the first time since he pulled out of rehearsals for the National Theatre's production of The Habit of Art under doctor's advice, with the part falling instead to Richard Griffiths.
The last major London outing for Krapp's Last Tape was in 2006, when the late Harold Pinter made a rare stage appearance in it at the Royal Court as part of the theatre’s 50th birthday celebrations. This production transfers from Dublin’s Gate Theatre and is directed by Gate artistic director Michael Colgan.
Did 'the great Gambon' impress the critics with his portrayal of Beckett's disappointed and lonely old man?
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (two stars) - "This Krapp's Last Tape, which comes from the Gate Theatre in Dublin, seems both too long and too short, padded out with extra business to last an underwhelming fifty minutes ... Before speaking, Gambon adds a play and a half beyond the stage direction... He steps in and out of the stage light, playfully, as if pretending he knows he’s in a theatre ... None of this Beckett wrote. When the words come, haltingly, Gambon strays in and out of an Irish accent, uncomfortably ... His explosions of violent rage are truly frightening ... But the lighting’s all wrong, and the pace of Michael Colgan’s direction indulgent and uncontrolled. It pains me to say this ... But this ain’t good enough, and certainly no challenge to the greatest Krapps I’ve seen: those of Max Wall, John Hurt and, of course, Harold Pinter."
Dominic Maxwell in The Times (five stars) - "Acting, they say, is reacting... Michael Gambon reacts the hell out of one of the great roles in modern theatre. For the first 20 minutes he shuffles wordlessly about his lonely room. There’s a wit and a grace to this production by Michael Colgan, first seen earlier this year at the Gate in Dublin, that makes something ravishing from Beckett’s gloom ... (He) then turns teary-eyed when he hears himself talk about the love that he presumably discarded in order to do so ... What comes through instead as Gambon turns pissy and peasanty when he finally makes his own recording at the end, is a man who thinks that he doesn’t need to pretend any more ... Gambon is electrifying throughout ... Gambon’s Krapp is a man who sees himself go from having experiences to collecting them. And in the process he gives us one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of the year."
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (three stars) - "Michael Gambon has pulled another jammy gig, playing taciturn 69-year old Krapp in Samuel Beckett’s 50-minute play about loneliness and regret. Half the words are spoken on tape ... Sir Michael has a gift for Beckett - you probably won’t find the Irishman better done ... One or two theatregoers emitted forced laughs to show how brilliantly engaged they were with each twitch of Sir Michael’s hands ... It doesn’t deserve that sort of acclaim but the thing is not without value. It has a poetic intensity and conveys nostalgic emptiness as Krapp listens to a tape he recorded on his 39th birthday. Much of it is about an unsuccessful love affair... Do diary writers go back and re-live old entries as Krapp does with his tapes? I don’t know, having stopped keeping a diary when my girlfriend (now wife) trespassed on it ... The line that comes back to haunt Krapp is that 'the earth might be uninhabited'. For him it certainly seems to be."
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) - "Krapp's Last Tape is surely the most moving of Beckett’s plays. It distils a life into 50 minutes as an old man sits alone on his 69th birthday and listens to a tape recording he made 30 years earlier ... Oddly, this isn’t quite as depressing as it sounds... Like Larkin’s beautiful poem An Arundel Tomb, this is a work that suggests that what will survive of us is love ... At the start of Michael Colgan’s production it looks as though we may have arrived too late, for Krapp, slumped at his desk with his head in his arms looks as though he might already be dead ... What is so moving about both play and performance is the tenderness that lurks among the harsh humour and terrible loneliness. As he listens again to his account of that last meeting with his lover, Gambon cradles the tape recorder in his arms, as if it were the body of his long-lost lover. It is an unforgettable image."
Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (three stars) - "Krapp is a husk of a man. He has measured out his life with recordings of his musings, and here digs out a tape he made 30 years ago ... This is a 'memory play'. Krapp disavows his past, even tries to dispose of it, but finds himself 'drowned in dreams' ... There are fine details in his performance, and a morbid enjoyment of the play’s sheer elusiveness. He conjures with the sound of the word 'spool' as if it’s a sex toy ... Yet in Michael Colgan’s production, some of the text’s nuances are left unexplored and the pace is not well judged. Fifteen minutes elapse before Gambon speaks — too long — and the Irish accent he adopts feels inauthentic. A few raw moments notwithstanding, we don’t really penetrate the depths of this eccentric piece’s mingled moods."
Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (four stars) - "The man sat in the chair is slumped face down across the edge of the ornate desk... For a moment you think he is a corpse, but then his fingers begin to move, unfurling uncomfortably ... The first 20 minutes of Samuel Beckett's merciless, miniature masterpiece is almost complete silence, but there is no lack of eloquence in the performance of Michael Gambon ... His face is pale, his eyes dull, and his ragged clothes are covered in dust as if he has been the victim of some calamitous accident. He has. His life ... His rage has the quality of a toddler's tantrum that turns swiftly to self-pity ... Some have cakes and candles; Krapp has his spools and ledgers, a calling to account in which past and present are in dialogue... Krapp listens appalled to this self ... Soon all will be silence. For a moment Gambon's Krapp howls like a cornered animal. And then he sits immobile, as if welcoming the inevitable, smothering darkness."
- by Andrew Girvan
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