Michael Gambon starring in a play by Beckett on the West End stage; Krapp’s Last Tape is one of the most anticipated productions of the autumn.
The slowly built anticipation continues when the Duchess theatre’s curtain rises on a tatty, dusty-faced Gambon lying asleep slumped on a writer’s desk, as for the first 15 minutes of the production the theatrical knight does not speak. Instead, he shuffles around the desk, passing the time, setting out his tape deck and previous recordings, checking, with a hint of paranoia, over his shoulder and delighting in his discovery of hidden bananas.
Here is a man with too much time for contemplation on his hands. With nothing to do but drag his nails across the embossing on his desk, introspection comes all too naturally.
When we do hear the actor’s voice, it is not always live. Krapp is returning to an annual ritual, made every year on his birthday, of listening to old recordings and making a new one. Gambon sits still, listening to a long past, but clearly never forgotten, encounter with a woman. Every twitch, every shudder, every blink conveys a deep, unquenchable sadness.
As Krapp tortures himself, his mourning of youth, love, optimism and vitality lost to the ravages of time and the passing of life are both painful and touching to watch. The show’s short running time – it comes in at less than one hour – is more than enough time to spend in Krapp’s depressing company, but just enough time to remind us to live life to the full and try not to dwell on regrets.