“Krapp isn’t quite of this world”

Sian Bayley finds chills and thrills in this production's take on Beckett's exploration of failure

Beatrix Grant’s innovative production of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape and Rockaby brings together, in original combination, two plays which both focus on ‘the audible word and the distorting power of retrospect’. Having completely sold out on its opening night at the Burton Taylor Studio, this production has attracted excited interest, and rightly so. While not always comfortable to watch, the intensity of Christopher Page and Natalie Woodward’s performances are simultaneously mesmerising and thought-provoking, as they investigate what it means to be look back on one’s life in old age.

Upon entering the small enclosed space of the BT Studio, the audience is met with the hunched figure of Page, as Krapp, at his desk, mindlessly staring at nothing. The lights are dimmed and Krapp begins to shuffle about in his seat, eventually standing up to get a banana, which he methodically peals, his eyes continuing to stare out into the distance. The first five minutes are performed in complete silence as the audience watches Krapp wander about. It is only when he reads his diary aloud that the oppressive silence is broken, giving the audience some sense of relief before they discover more about Krapp’s past.

Page does an excellent job portraying a man far older than himself. His gruff Irish voice and hacking cough give a gritty edge to his speech, even if his shuffling movements are somewhat stompy and exaggerated. His delivery of the strange sounding word ‘spool’ is almost euphoric, as if he is inhaling a drug, and gives his performance a spiritual quality, suggesting that Krapp isn’t quite of this world. As the play progresses, however, and we listen to the recordings of Krapp’s 39-year-old self, a more detailed picture of his life begins to emerge. Far from the distant stranger of the first half, we learn of Krapp’s love-life and then of his frustration. Page stares out into the audience for the first time and fixes his eye on me. I feel like he is blaming me for his failures, and it is a chilling sensation.

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Krapp’s exit then transitions into the beginning of Rockaby. It is this beautifully choreographed scene change, accompanied by Ted Mair’s quasi-religious sound-scape, that highlights the emotional connections between two protagonists who both seek company but pass each other as strangers. As Page’s Krapp forcefully pushes his desk off stage, Woodward creeps on and slowly settles into her rocking chair, before a haunting voice begins to speak. The rhythmic verse is in time with the rocking of the chair, as it moves between light and dark, symbolising how the woman is on the edge of death. In a play with very few spoken lines, Woodward still manages to shape her performance as a woman bent on her own destruction, quietly asking for more whenever the voice stops. Again, this is well staged, but I noticed some sings of impatience in the audience towards the end. While Rockaby is short, its repetitive nature and dark lighting makes it difficult to justify being placed directly after an hour-long performance of Krapp’s Last Tape without an interval.

Overall, however, this combination of lesser known Beckett plays is well put together and expertly choreographed. The minimalist and intimate setting of the BT Studio enables the plays to be performed as Beckett intended, and Page and Woodward’s performances are to be commended for their emotional pull, and strange sense of otherness.