Theatre reviews: Go On and Krapp's Last Tape, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Maureen Beattie is magnificent in Linda McLean’s haunting new play Go On, written in response to Samuel Beckett’s 1958 monologue Krapp’s Last Tape, writes Joyce McMillan

Maureen Beattie as Jane in Go On PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic
Maureen Beattie as Jane in Go On PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic

Go On, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

Krapp’s Last Tape, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

On screen, a woman sits on a high stool in a sterile-looking white kitchen, with a garden door beyond. She pours herself half a glass of red wine, and sips from it. She talks – at first mainly about kidneys, damaged or otherwise, and a kidney-shaped table her family had when she was young. Then she is interrupted by another version of herself, who repeats the story, almost word perfect, but not quite.

One woman is Jane, the other Jayne, but which is which is one of many unanswered questions, in Linda McLean’s new 30-minute play Go On. Written in response to Samuel Beckett’s magnificent 1958 monologue Krapp’s Last Tape, and playing alongside it in this Citizens’ Theatre Company double bill at the Tron, Go On covers similar territory – memory, reflection on a long life, the haunting imprint of certain moments of love or beauty long after they are gone; in this woman’s case, her feelings for a dearly beloved son who both achieves and suffers, and her memory of one moment when he seems, as a child, to have experienced pure bliss.

If we read the programme note to Go On before we see the show, we will know that the play was partly inspired by the idea of a woman – who has promised for her son’s sake to live to be 100 – training an AI replacement for herself to know all that she knows, remember all that she remembers, feel all that she feels.

Yet even without that information, there is something immensely powerful and haunting about Jane’s – or Jayne’s – desperate effort to go on, despite the fragility of human life. Maureen Beattie is truly magnificent in both roles, leading us gradually towards the recognition that the real-life Jane we see in front of us may well be the AI version, and not the original, in an immaculate production by the Citizens’ Dominic Hill that is full of sadness, humanity, and a kind of shivering wonder, at the ever-stranger worlds being opened up for us by our own unstoppable ingenuity and relentless inventiveness.

Hill’s production of Go On therefore shades almost seamlessly – after a five-minute pause – into Irish actor Niall Buggy’s superb performance of Krapp’s Last Tape, which seems by comparison a thoroughly earthy piece of work, shot through with humour both grim and hilarious.

Like Jane/Jayne, Krapp looks back over his life, in his case from the age of 69. Indeed, thanks to his habit of a recording an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape every year on his birthday, he has no option but to be intensely aware of his past self, his follies, aspirations, and absolute lack of basic wisdom.

Buggy’s performance – first seen at Leeds Playhouse last autumn – sometimes has a slightly startling quality, as he literally roars with rage at the literary pretensions of his 39-year-old self, as captured on tape, and dismisses his mighty moment of metaphysical insight as so much unbearable nonsense, compared with a simple memory of the moment when he learned of his mother’s death, or – most particularly – of a day out on the river with a long-lost beautiful woman, when the world stilled around them into a glimpse of pure sensual joy.

In capturing Krapp’s anger and disappointment, though, Buggy also makes space for his bitter, knowing humour, and his surprising ability still to take pleasure in things like the simple word “spool”. Sex, death and beauty matter, Beckett seems to tell us, and everything else is dross – except, of course, for the genius of a playwright who, like no other, reports back from the very edge of oblivion, and enables us to share the ultimate bleakness of the view.

Until 9 October

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