Krapp’s Last Tape and Rockaby: A Review22nd February 2017
Krapp crouches over an inconspicuous cardboard box, he rummages inside it and then withdraws a slightly spotted banana. He stands, moves towards the audience and ever so slowly, without looking, peels the banana; before placing it whole in his mouth and holding it there. The comic simplicity of this sequence could seem out of place in a production that explores retrospection, isolation and regret. But, the woeful humour is delivered by Christopher Page in such a manner that it throws the emptiness of Krapp’s life into stark relief. Perspex Production’s ability to make the measured peeling of a banana a highlight of the performance affirms the talent of their director, Beatrix Grant.
Krapp’s Last Tape is an unfairly overlooked play in the Beckett oeuvre, especially given how pertinent the play’s concern with technology and identity is to the new audience of Generation Z. In Perspex Production’s rendition, the spoken word recordings construct a self that is seemingly more alive and believable than the physical Krapp before us. These tapes allow three variations of Krapp to co-exist on the same stage: his present self, who listens to a recording made by his 39 year old self, who in turn comments upon his younger self. The costume and make-up design added to this illusion as with his whitewashed appearance Krapp appeared like a ghost. Page is a wonderful vocal actor, the control that he exercises over his voice in its careful pauses, inarticulate stumblings and exaggerations is crucial to the play’s success. In a script that does not allow much in terms of movement, or character interaction, Page’s pre-recorded tapes have to bear the majority of the dramatic force.
Krapp’s Last Tape is an unfairly overlooked play in the Beckett oeuvre, especially given how pertinent the play’s concern with technology and identity is to the new audience of Generation Z.
The tapes memorialise a life of regret, alcoholism and a lost love. Krapp is simultaneously disgusted by, and unavoidably drawn to, these trapped memories. They endlessly repeat, and Krapp’s obsessive hurt is apparent when Page poignantly mouths the words as they are coming. As a device that moves beyond a simple prop, the tape player allows Page to interact with Krapp’s past selves as though they were another character through the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward. The performance takes full advantage of these effects; teasing the audience by skipping through the most passionate, most painful, details of the love affair that we long to hear. When it comes to making this year’s tape there is “nothing to say”. The play creates a portrait of a life that has unravelled, that is on hold, like the tapes themselves – or to be more accurate, Krapp’s life has become the tape recording.
The soundscape is complemented by Ted Mair’s soundtrack. The decision to include original music was a rewarding one that shows an understanding of the aural nature of the play. Mair’s score rises from a faint background murmuring to a crescendo of throbbing electronic music. The experience was akin to listening to music from under water and suddenly breaking the surface as it swells – a release of tension that is denied within the oppressed atmosphere of the play. This could have been played with more had the soundtrack been sustained beyond the performance’s opening, although, admittedly Beckett’s focus on voice and silence does not leave much room for further sound.
The decision to include original music was a rewarding one that shows an understanding of the aural nature of the play.
Despite this, the lullaby quality of Natalie Lauren’s voice in Rockaby was musical in its own right. Standing at fifteen minutes long, Rockaby was a recent addition to the billing that managed not to feel secondary. The scene transition between the two pieces could have awkwardly attached one play onto the other, but instead it was a remarkable theatrical moment. Page pulls himself and his props offstage, just as Natalie Lauren as ‘W’ pushes herself and the rocking chair on. This directorial decision visually captures the dialogue that Perspex Productions have innovatively observed between the plays. As Krapp went “up and down”, W rocks “to and fro”. Both actors are propelled by the sound of their voices and pay a careful attention to movement, Page with the laboured dragging of his feet, Lauren with the rocking of her otherwise immobile body. Rockaby is hypnotic, it creates an isolated world from a few thoughtful details such as the casting of a window’s shadow, or the off kilter positioning of the rocking chair. But, it is the modulations of Lauren’s incantatory voice that steal the show. Her voice is at once soothingly childlike and mechanically repetitive.
This performance skilfully handled difficult material. Beckett’s plays can often feel dated, or predictable when staged because his style is so characteristic. Perspex Productions have brought a considered production to the Burton Taylor Studio, one which explores nuances of retrospect, repetition and sound in a beautifully understated way.