Krapp’s Last Tape, The Duchess Theatre, London’s West End – Review

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Michael Gambon as Krapp

This classic Beckett play opened this week in the West End, following its success and critical acclaim at The Gate Theatre Dublin.

It’s a 50 minute play with one single character, Krapp. Michael Gambon brought this enigmatic character to life before our very eyes. From the humourous to the sad and absurd, he kept us enthralled as we see Krapp listening to the tapes and recording his latest one. It’s an absolutely stunning and gripping performance.

The play itself is strangely beautiful and haunting. To me it felt poetic and Beckett has infused it with exquisite tenderness and power.

“We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.”

Is a phrase repeated a few times in the play, and has been running through my head since seeing the play. Along with a few other phrases.

The playful Beckett humour is present and even though this is a poignant play, Beckett allows us to laugh at the inherent absudity of Krapp’s and our own existence.

The intimate Duchess Theatre is an ideal venue for the play and the lighting and direction were perfect. There are two stars to this play, Beckett as the writer and Gambon for bringing his text to life in such a compelling way.

Images – not just text

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This post follows on from thoughts I’ve been having recently, that were especially brought into focus during a lecture with Michael Walling at college on Saturday (see previous post).

The images that theatre creates are one of its most powerful and lingering aspects. Of the hundreds of productions I’ve seen most conjure up an image when I recall them. In fact few bring to mind text or dialogue.

I received a copy of the Original London Cast Recording of Miss Saigon for my recent birthday, I saw this in the West End in the mid nineties and had forgotten how great the score was. Yet two images from that production have remained crystal clear, since seeing it all those years ago ; the scene with all the Ho Chi Minh placards/red flags and the final tableau/image of the death.

What other images come to mind when I consider the theatre I’ve seen??

  • The RSC did a production of Richard II at the Roundhouse a few years ago, as Richard II stands on stage, sand pours down on his head during his last speech, (which is long), and it’s linked to a line of monologue that is also etched on my mind “I’ve wasted time, now time wastes me”, seeing Richard II literally seeing the sands of time pass before him in his prison cell, is one of the most spectacular and moving theatrical images I’ve seen.
  • Pepe Bou who places himself in a giant bubble at the end of a show of his at the London International Mime Festival a few years ago

    Pep Bou and a rather large bubble

  • The chandelier flying over your heads in Phantom
  • The recreation of George Seurat’s painting with the cast at the end of the first half of Sunday in the Park with George – one of the few times I’ve cried in the theatre
  • Nora leaving Torvald at the end of A Doll’s House
  • The two characters at the end of Honour simply seated and talking about the end of their marriage
  • Beasts instant transformation into the Prince in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast
  • The lead female dancer of the Moscow Ballet pirouetted so many times that I lost count, with unimaginable grace and elegance
  • The vicar in Donkey’s Years, putting his coat over his head and singing “I’m a naughty nun”

The list could go on, but Theatre is a visual and existential art form. The texts are important, but are only part of the overall piece. As I’m reading my plays for college I’m trying to conjure up my own imaginings of what they’d look like, and the images that strike me. As I’m focusing on the Theatre of the Absurd at present, with their distrust of language, it’s no surprise that the imagery is key to my understanding of theatre at present, but looking back I suppose it always has been, I’ve just not been as aware as I am now.

Study and Induction Day at Rose Bruford College 11/09/10


The offer of spending a day in “sunny” Sidcup is hard to refuse at the best of times, even more so when the offer of spending it is at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance for a day of workshops and fun.

It was lovely to meet up with old friends and to meet so many of the new students, I trust you didn’t feel too intimidated by us old hands.

A packed day was laid on;

  • Is it Really All about Text? with Professor Michael Walling
  • Telling the Tale: Voice and Essay Writing with Dr Stephe Harrop
  • Using the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and Learning Resources Centre (LRC) with David Matthews and Librarian Frank Trew
  • Pick a number between 1 – 100 with Jayne Richards and David Matthews

Michael Walling’s first session on “Is it really all about text?”, was great as Michael used a clip of an act from his latest play that opened on Thursday ( ). An in-depth discussion followed as we analysed the performance. It was interesting to see what others had seen in the piece and the interpretations we had. It also gave me a taste of this production and if I have time I’m keen to catch it whilst it’s on in London.

I was looking forward to Stephe Harrop’s session following the workshop she did on the Greek Chorus at the March study weekend ( This was an engaging and helpful session empowering us to use our voice in our assignments. Taking an extract of Duncan Williamson’s stories, we dissected it, and made it “academic”, whilst this was an extreme exercise, it really hit the point home and was worthwhile. Then followed a game where we had to tell a story in groups but for each verb/adjective/noun, give three other alternatives, alas no thesaurus or dictionaries were allowed.

The VLE is a new venture for the college’s distance learning program and has been a giant leap forward for us all and already is making distance learning better. David showed us some future things to come, which will make it an even funkier place. Learning more about the LRC was really helpful especially their online resources as I’m going to need them for my next assignments.

For the last session we got into groups and examined part of an anonymous students assignment against the marking criteria. What followed was interesting, I’m just glad none of my colleagues mark my assignments, especially Debbie!!! The tutors then pointed out the positives and negatives in the assignment. I’m guilty of many of the negatives, so it was good to be reminded what needs to be done as my assignments begin to loom.

The room was then divided between the continuing students and brand new ones, what followed was really good, the new students could ask us any question they liked of the continuing students and we answered from our group experience. I found this helpful as the advice given by other students was really good, and I trust it helped the new students.

As usual the food was fab (Mary has promised Jaffa Cakes for the March weekend as Kevin has requested them), there was a distinct lack of pineapple this year which while disappointing, was amply made up for by the melon and apples! (sorry to students not at March 2010 study weekend, it’s a “had to be there” joke)

For me though, the key thing I appreciate the most is to meet with other students, realise I’m not doing this on my own and to have a good chat about all things theatrical with people who share the same passion (if not the same views) as I. That’s why these study days are to me the highlights of the academic year. Bring on March 2011!!!!!!!!!!