Theatre review: Krapp’s Last Tape

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Edinburgh International Festival: Church Hill Theatre has history as a venue for the works of Samuel Beckett.

Church Hill Theatre

****

During the Edinburgh Festival of 1984, it played host to a memorable production of Beckett shorts by the late American director Alan Schneider at a time when many of those vital Beckett texts were new and unfamiliar to most audiences.

It is, therefore, good to see Church Hill marking its return as an official Festival venue with this richly enjoyable production of Beckett’s 1958 monologue masterpiece Krapp’s Last Tape, delivered by the great Irish actor Barry McGovern – already a Festival star for past Beckett performances in Watt and I’ll Go On – and director-producer Michael Colgan, for 33 years head of Dublin’s Gate Theatre.

Dozens of great actors have had their say on Krapp, of course, leading audiences through this magnificent 50-minute reflection on ageing, loss, and the mysterious passing of time. Alone in his bleak room, on his 69th birthday, Krapp digs out his archive of past birthday tapes, and dwells on one in particular, from his 39th birthday, which records both the fact of his mother’s death, and one unforgettable moment of surging, rocking life, with a woman, in a boat, on a river.

What McGovern brings to the play’s strange mixture of listening and monologue, though, is a unique quality of familial, almost fatherly exasperation, as he listens to the “young fool he took himself for” indulging in fatuous literary ambitions, and allowing one of life’s rare chances of happiness to pass him by. He delivers Krapp’s own lines with a gruff, humorous and strangely vigorous exhaustion that does them full justice.

In listening to Krapp’s younger self, though, his face becomes an unforgettable picture of response and responsiveness, full of bewilderment, irritation, and occasional tenderness and wonder; as he listens and listens again to this key lost moment of his past, still vivid and timeless in the present, before he finally shuffles off into the dark.

Until 27 August, Today 8pm.