Krapp’s Last Tape

Krapp’s Last Tape was the last production I saw as part of the International Beckett Season at the Barbican. The play is about an old man who has, for years, been making recordings each year of his life, summing up the months gone by. Each year he listens to previous tapes: we see him, as a 69 year old, listen to a tape of him as a 39 year old, who refers to his younger self disparagingly, much as the elderly Krapp now views the middle-aged Krapp. The premise is poignant, and the play makes use of typically Beckettian themes like loneliness and loss.

I don’t have any previous productions to compare this one to, but I gather that it is very different from usual. Robert Wilson is an American actor who plays up the avant-garde and this production is staged in a stark basement room, with Wilson, white-faced like a clown, reacting to the tapes in an over the top and cartoonish manner, as if to emphasise the horror of old age.

Beginning with a long silence, during which Wilson moves around the stage, moving boxes of tape, and rain patters onto his windows, the production is certainly an unusual one, and I found that the abstract approach made it hard for me to warm to the character. Perhaps this was the intention? It was certainly different, and memorable, but I think I would rather see a more traditional production before I make my mind up about this play.





Rough For Theatre I, Act Without Words II

As part of the International Beckett Season at the Barbican, I attended a production of two of Samuel Beckett’s shorter works, performed outside in the courtyard and beside the church. Short they might be, but they certainly pack a punch. After having seen Act Without Words I and Rough For Theatre II at the Old Red Lion Theatre a couple of months back, it was with a feeling of satisfaction that I arrived at the Barbican to attend this performance of Rough For Theatre I and Act Without Words II.

Rough For Theatre I, the first piece to be performed, perfectly suited the outdoor setting. Two tramps, A who cannot walk and B who is blind, argue and bicker with one another while also revealing a mutual dependence – similar in some respects to Waiting For Godot. The second piece, Act Without Words II, saw two men take it in turns to emerge from their sleeping bags, dress and begin the day before undressing and turning in once again. It sounds trivial, but it brings home the things you do every day of your life without thinking about them.

The Company SJ production, directed by Sarah Jane Scaife, is strong, linking the two pieces together in meaningful ways. These short but powerful pieces are well worth seeing.

Honouring Intentions: The Director and Beckett

I attended a panel discussion at the Barbican entitled Honouring Intentions: The Director and Beckett. I love Beckett but he is definitely one of those playwrights I need a little help to understand. I hoped that the discussion would help shed new light on the staging of Beckett’s work, including the tension between his restrictive stage directions and the directorial desire to change and explore new things.

The panel included Dr Derval Tubridy (Goldsmiths, University of London) as well as the directors Sarah-Jane Scaife (Company SJ), Walter Asmus, and Gavin Quinn (Pan Pan Theatre). I was particularly interested in what Walter Asmus had to say. In slow, considered speech he recounted how he first met Beckett at 10 am on the 27th of December 1974, worked with him in (then) West Berlin, and assisted him in the direction of Waiting for Godot. He talked of how Beckett was very specific with respect to the staging of his work, directing his texts like a conductor and doing the blocking himself, walking around the stage counting his steps. I could have listened to his anecdotes all day; he was fascinating, alluding to how he and Beckett “put up with” each other.

Sarah-Jane Scaife was also fascinating as she spoke of how her work, which has taken her all over the world, has shown how it is important to take into account the space where the work is being performed. For instance, she found that Beckett seemed to work particularly well in Georgia; less so in Mongolia. Gavin Quinn spoke about the role of mathematics in the plays, and the importance of timing.

The questions at the end brought up some interesting points, including Beckett’s influence on future playwrights like Enda Walsh, and modern theatre practices like the monologue. Overall I found the discussion fascinating and I feel it helped me develop a greater understanding of Beckett and his work.

Beckett on Screen – Television Pieces

As part of the International Beckett Season I popped along to the Barbican to attend a screening of some of the pieces Samuel Beckett wrote for television. Created specially for this medium, they struck me as being quite static – not a criticism, but an observation – making them more suited to the screen rather than the stage.

Eh Joe stars Jack McGowran, shut in a room while the voice of a woman he once loved (Sian Phillips) affects him deeply. As the camera draws ever closer to the actor’s face, the intensity of his emotions become even more apparent. This short piece was directed by Alan Gibson and was released in 1966.

Directed by Donald McWhinnie and Anthony Page, the 1977 Ghost Trio (named after Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Trio which can be heard in the piece) is similarly haunting, with repetitive movements and a lonely atmosphere.

…but the clouds…, created at the same time, is a meditation on absence featuring Ronald Pickup and Billie Whitelaw, who mouths words from The Tower, a poem by Yeats that inspired the title.

Finally, Beginning to End, directed by Chloe Gibson in 1966, stars Jack McGowran who dramatises various Beckett prose works.

Taken together, the pieces were powerful and thought-provoking, though I think I’d have to think and read about them a fair bit more to really understand them.