Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Krapps' Last Tape with John Hurt in The Gate Theatre, Dublin

Photographs: © Matthew Thompson 2013 
The curtain just seemed to evaporate and John Hurt was suddenly there.

I've just returned from a visit to The Gate Theatre in Dublin, having seen John Hurt perform in Beckett's wonderful, short play, 'Krapp's Last Tape'.  A friend once said to me that there are special times when drama on stage is just magical, and this was one of those times.

The play shows  Krapp, an old man, returning to tapes that he has recorded throughout his life, recounting experiences, much in the same way as a diary.  The voice on the reel to reel recording sounds younger and is full of bravado about future plans and the good choices that he has made.  To the older Krapp, now listening to the tapes, the younger Krapp on the recording is foolish and has made many mistakes.
The premise is simple, yet, as always with Beckett, there is much going on beneath the surface and even more questions are asked than answered.
You are left wondering, why would someone spend so much time recording the events of their life instead of going out and living it?  But then, isn't that what we all do every time we write a diary entry, a poem, or even take a picture?  I knew a man once, who made countless audio tapes about his life.  When he died, they were just discarded on a rubbish heap; no one ever got to listen to them.  It still saddens me to think of it.  I didn't rescue them to have a listen, feeling I would have been prying nosily, and also believing, that once I started to listen, I would be compelled never to stop.
Aren't our own memories loud enough, ringing eternally in our own ears?  Do we really need other people's memories drowning out our own?  But then, I think, it is the act of telling one's own story, that has a purpose in itself.  It is a way of re-evaluating and taking stock of one's life.

What is so poignant about this production of Beckett's play, is that John Hurt was cast in the role about a decade ago, and the tapes that he used on stage, seem to be from that other show, as they sound so much younger than the voice of  the actor on the stage in 2013.  In that way, we are witnessing the real and actual ageing of the actor before our eyes, or at least we are very conscious of it.  It makes the drama seem more real somehow.

This is a play full of invisible mirrors; we hear a voice from the past and imagine the events he describes, then we watch the older Krapp's face and we see him reliving the moments described by his younger self.  The effect is magical.  If we are the secret voyeurs, he is also one; a voyeur of his own life, constantly revisiting his younger self, re-living a time gone by.

But why does he do this?  Why is he so caught up with the past?  Is this some kind of self-motivational tool?  Some kind of therapy?  Perhaps it is, but I feel it has a lot more to do with memory and how so much of our memory is lost over time.  Perhaps this is Krapp's attempt to undo the damage, the real damage, caused by ageing: memory loss.

Knowing people who live with dementia, it seems like a sensible thing to do, to capture life on tape for future reference.  Yet, sometimes, such preparation is in vain, as one's sense of self vanishes and self-recognition is not possible.

It interests me how Krapp is so hard on his younger self, but aren't we all?  Don't we all dismiss the style and fashion of our teenage selves as awful and embarrassing, with phrases such as, 'what was I thinking?'  In this way, Krapp is a universal figure, someone we can all relate to.

Ultimately, I believe that this play is particularly suited to being reviewed on a blog, because blogging is the equivalent of what Krapp spends the entire play doing, recording thoughts, for some imagined reader, perhaps as a means of working through one's thoughts, and making sense of the world.  But as the curtain goes down, and Krapp disappears once again in to the darkness, we know that there will be another 'last' tape, as the hours go on and the magic continues.

No comments: