“Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back.”
When you walk into the space it takes only a few seconds to register that the Crucible’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape is going to be something very special. In the centre of the darkened space is a slowly revolving shed, perfectly detailed inside and out and cleverly designed so that we can see everything that we need to within its chaotic, cramped interior from all angles as it turns. It is surrounded by low audience benches and a ring of small round speakers suspended at knee height. Those of us at the front are within a few feet of the action. Krapp is already inside sitting in front of a battered reel to reel tape recorder- of course he is as he spends hours in there, alone with his thoughts. It is an astonishing setting for the play, created by Alex Lowde, I doubt that you will ever see a better one, so much detail and thought has gone into getting it exactly right. It almost feels as though you have already seen the drama in full as you peer in at Krapp through the windows. Becket conceived his plays as a whole theatrical package of light, sound, setting and text and that is exactly what you get from this wonderful production. Richard Wilson, who plays Krapp, must have been thrilled when he first saw it. If it wasn’t so very unfair to a fine performance I would say that half his job was already done when he sat down inside it. It is also quite beautifully and subtly lit by Hansjorg Schmidt and that really matters for this play.
Krapp has been putting his thoughts down on tape for a very long time and he has been left with a record of his younger self. This is what he has been steeling himself to explore on this, his 69th birthday. During the course of the play he listens to the tape that he made when he was 39. As we watch a bitter, disappointed man whose life has been unfulfilled listen to his younger, still hopeful self, we hear one of his opportunities for happiness being missed. It is a sombre business. Beckett is a bold, uncompromising writer who leaves us no room for consolation. We all share Krapp’s predicament as the spool of our life slowly runs out and those of us who are old enough can feel the pang of our own hurts and missed opportunities as we watch him struggle with his past. In an age where many lives are being recorded on social media in ever more detail, every meal photographed, every hope set down, every slight revenged, Beckett’s play, written over fifty years ago, has great resonance. In the future many people will be able to look back at their young selves in what may well be horrifying detail. You can’t rewrite your past to suit your own ideas of what you would have liked it to be when the truth is staring you in the face. In allowing himself to face his younger self Krapp performs an act of great bravery and self examination.
Beckett is a very precise, economical writer who has provided every detail needed, but he also makes great demands on his actor. The clues are all there in the text and the stage directions, but it is up to the actor to bring them to the surface and show the thought processes of the man. Richard Wilson does this impeccably. You can see the thoughts chasing across his face and this makes every moment quite mesmerising to watch. I don’t think that there was a single moment where I didn’t feel that I knew what was going on inside his head.
Polly Findlay, Alex Lowde and above all Richard Wilson as Krapp have joined forces to give us, quite simply, as good an account of Samuel Beckett’s great writing as you are ever likely to see. A young man who left the theatre alongside me was saying to his friends, “That was quite remarkable” and that is exactly the right word. This is a piece of true theatre that leaves you a different person after seeing it, a short, intense time spent in another place. You had to be there…….. and I will never forget that I was.