It is a pure delight to see Michael Gambon perform on the London stage in one-man play, Krapp’s Last Tape. It’s a miniature: a 50-minute piece written by Samuel Beckett, said to be biographical. Performed in the cosy Duchess Theatre, it was full to the brim on the night I went.
The first 15 minutes are silent as we see a hapless-looking Krapp sprawled across a table. He gradually rises and begins fumbling around the stage as the audience fidgets impatiently in their squeaking seats. This makes his eventual words much more emphatic and lasting in the memory.
The set is minimal. On stage is a small desk, a chair and a light that shines over the weary man and acts metaphorically as a spotlight on his life.
Every year on his birthday he records himself talking on a reel of tape. Then he listens to a previous year, choosing at random from the large dusty collection. We listen to excerpts from box three, spool five, learning about his former life, his loves, his realisations. He mumbles his regrets and recollections, getting increasingly frustrated and obsessing about the past.
The frank stream of thought reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s writing, complete with beautifully articulate descriptions. At times Krapp is endearing, sometimes witty, but most of all he seems dejected and alone, and I couldn’t help but pity the character.
This is an unusual production for London’s buzzing West End. I found it refreshing after the two- and three-hour shows I have seen recently. It allows you to have a relaxing meal either side of the show, and leaves you pondering the drama you have just seen. Best of all, you can be home in bed by 10pm!
Krapp’s Last Tape at the Duchess Theatre until 20 November 2010. Book tickets