Theatre Review: Krapp's Last Tape @ Duchess Theatre

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 92 months ago
Theatre Review: Krapp's Last Tape @ Duchess Theatre

krapp.jpg Would you pay £40 for a 50-minute one-man play? And a Samuel Beckett play at that, where traditionally nothing happens slowly? The one man, admittedly, is Michael Gambon, one of the greatest living stage actors, our favourite Dumbledore and the Singing Detective of yore. In fact, you may need to be some kind of detective yourself to guess what is happening during the opening fifteen minutes as Gambon’s dirty and wizened Krapp wakes up at a desk, wanders around the stage eating a banana and then uses a second banana for a not-so-cheap knob gag.

Even after Krapp utters something, we are not much the wiser. Doing some research before you see this play would be a wise move as there are no onstage or scripted clues in this version to many key contextual elements; for example, that we are meeting a dying constipated Krapp on his birthday as he carries out his annual ritual of making a new tape of his thoughts and listening to old ones.

This play is notable for being a two-handed soliloquy. More than half the spoken words come courtesy of a tape of a younger Krapp contemplating an even younger self. In essence, this means watching a seated Gambon heavily emoting while we listen to a recorded Gambon. Even for a Beckett play, this is hardly a thrillride. It makes Waiting For Godot look like Bad Boys.

Gambon is hardly perfect here either. Although he works superbly within the limited script to invest the elder Krapp with a complex emotional state and touching mannerisms, he is less faithful to Beckett's original vision of Krapp - namely Irish, small and dying - than a Premiership footballer. The worst element is Gambon’s accent which is, like an unfortunate jaywalking hedgehog, all over the place. The younger Krapp has a pompous Home Counties-inflected accent while his older counterpart has a gravelly Donegal growl which occasionally goes mid-Atlantic.

Group rates aside, the cheapest tickets are £30 a pop, for which you can grab a copy of the original script, a critical guide to make sense of it and sit back with a drink of something nice somewhere nice while having enough money left over to enjoy a night full of great theatre.

Tickets for Krapp's Last Tape can be bought here and the show continues until November 20.

Last Updated 25 September 2010

BrigadierCrispbread's an awesome play...I can't wait to see!

Franco Milazzo

I thought exactly the same. Until I saw it. Would be interested to hear what you think of it.


OK...I'll try and remember to check back in :O)

BrigadierCrispbread comments - I'd agree the first 20 mins does require patience - Beckett was very clear that he wanted his plays to be performed in such a way - as such, there is little room for adaptation if you wish to remain faithful to his extensive stage directions - and he was adamant that this should be the case.

Limited script? In what way is it limited - it's only six sides of A4! To cover as much as it does, to say so much with so is limited only in its minimalism and that's the point.

I thought Gambon's accent was absolutely fine. The younger Krapp is supposed to sound affected - from the script:

"strong voice, rather pompous, clearly Krapp's at a much earlier time".

It is perhaps a comment that a pompous (Irish) man's ideas on civility involve a lapse into the English vernacular. The elder Krapp, shorn of his dreams and pretensions both - growls and rumbles through his lines.

One thing that I got out of it, which I'd not appreciated from reading the play was how the tape recorder caught the posturing the posing of the writer...I remember recording my voice as a child and being spooked by how false it sounded, not that I was trying to say anything important or momentous. The same is also often true when one re-reads something one has wrote some time ago - the trace of your former selves, written or aural, often makes us cringe. Perhaps the most poetic part of the play is the way it explores a variety of reactions one can have to ones recorded past. It is deeply touching that Krapp gets annoyed and frustrated with the more "epic" poetry of his revelation that "the darkness that I have always struggled to keep under my be........" Instead, going back to a very human moment, with a girl in a boat, where love founders for the last time. Let me in...let me in.

Franco Milazzo

>> there is little room for adaptation if you wish to remain faithful to his extensive stage directions - and he was adamant that this should be the case.

Totally agree. Which is why I was mystified with the whole "stepping in and out of the light" routine and the banana-as-knob joke which are definitely not apparent in the original script (

Six sides of A4 is pretty limited in my view and Gambon did very well given how little he has to play with in terms of words, actions and time.

"strong voice, rather pompous, clearly Krapp's at a much earlier time".
It is indeed possible that the change of accent from anything which was noticeably Irish to something which would at home at a polo match was some kind of social commentary but I think that's guesswork unsupported by any other aspect of the play's direction. Looks like I wasn't the only one to take issue with the accent:

I still think it's strange that, to get anything decent out of KLT, you need to have read the script beforehand. Can you imagine any of Shakespeare's works requiring that? Or any movie? Most bizarre.