Krapp's Last tape

Throughout his life, on his birthday, Krapp records a review of his year using an old fashioned tape recorder.

This has all the trappings of an excellent production, but..

Today is Krapp’s 69th birthday, and he is about to record his last (or possibly his latest) tape. Before he does, he sits alone at his desk, eats a banana and contemplates his life. Then, checking the records he keeps in a ledger, he listens back to a previously recorded entry he made on his 39th birthday.

We see him reacting to the recording with criticism and derision - glad that he is no longer like his 39 year old self.

The play is intrinsically funny and tragic - showing our petty foibles and concerns - and their futility in the long run. We are presented with private moments of real human vulnerability and vaingloriousness.

John Chapman has the voice and physicality of Krapp but tends to play to the audience - deploying some elements of clown in order to endear the character to us. It is a style of performance that might easily suit one of Shakespeare’s comedies.

In this play, however, as soon as we are given a role as an audience, the illusion of Krapp’s privacy is shattered. The only relationship on stage should be between Krapp and himself, as he is now and as he was at 39.

The situation is already profoundly tragicomic – we don’t need him to try to be funny or sad. The performance requires no additional demonstrations for the benefit of the audience. We want to see what this man is like when there is no one else around to witness his behaviour. Yes, Krapp is playful and sometimes performs for his own benefit - for example, he delights in the word ‘spool’ and repeats it to himself. But even this silliness is private.

The recordings of course might well be for the benefit of other people - relatives or historians who might happen across them in years to come, and therefore, they might have a performative element. But this would have a very different flavour - the kind of performance we do in the privacy of our own homes - the Oscar speech in the shower.

Krapp’s recording when he is 39 years old is truthful and poignant, beautifully done by Chapman. But it would be delightful to watch the 69-year-old Krapp reacting to this with some sincerity.

The costume design by Sheila Burbidge is excellent, as is the complex sound design by Laurence Tuerk.

This has all the trappings of an excellent production, but the choice of performance style interferes with our experience of the play.

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