Krapp’s Last tape, Sheffield Crucible, review: A rare miss that shuts out audience
Surely after a lifetime of service to theatre, television and film Richard Wilson deserves better than to be locked in a sound proof box and spun creakily in the darkness of an overheated and airless studio theatre?
The 78-year-old’s greatest invention, the irascible Victor Meldrew, would certainly never have tolerated it, although he would have conjured wonderful comedy out of it.
The setting of this, the gloomiest of Beckett’s dark canon, must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Marooned in a hermetically sealed portable cabin, surrounded by the detritus of filth from a life poorly lived, Krapp’s isolation is, it is true, vividly represented.
So too, in theory, is the idea of relaying all the sound over the theatre’s PA system, underscoring the thwarted voice of the play’s only protagonist, an enticing one.
Yet the problem is that these devices sever all connection between audience and performer.
It feels almost impossible to gain access to the world created by Wilson – in all its haunting insularity - something that is not helped by the intermittent crackles of the sound system and the irritating squeak of the building itself as it revolves noisily and ever-so-slightly dizzyingly through the 40 long, bleak minutes of the performance.
So unremitting appears this production in its determination to shut the audience out, that those technical failures could well have been deliberate, although they are not.
For an actor this is a strange role. It starts with a long silent opening which eats into the first quarter of the play and during which we are treated to some mild banana-related slapstick, pacing and sitting before the protracted rummaging for the spool that will take us to the heart of the piece.
The majority of the speeches are played on the eponymous tapes – birthday messages from Krapp’s younger, disappointed self to the old broken 69-year-old marinated in years of failure and isolation he has become.
It is brutal and bleak stuff. Yet the power of the recollections, the grim humour of the responses and the Spartan beauty of Beckett’s prose come across only in flashes and the audience is forced to crane forward in an effort to catch what it can.
Even for a crepuscular play this is dimly lit to the point of not being able to make out what is going on.
And in the final scene as Krapp allows the tape to play out revealing the full heartbreak of his plight, the machine itself breaks down, forcing Wilson to endure the final moments alone with the motionless spools before dropping his head into his hands.
Director Polly Findlay did a fine job with A Taste of Honey at this theatre two years ago whilst designer Alex Lowde produced a great set for Enjoy, the opener in the recent Alan Bennett season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds
This however is a rare miss for Sheffield Theatres made worse by technical difficulties.
To 19 July
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 Optical illusion turns blue demon into brunette
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to donate entire $32bn fortune to charity
- 5 Mystery sea creature - with 'fur' and 'a beak' - washes up on remote Russian beach, baffling scientists
Top Gear: Former co-host James May to present new BBC2 car show
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
'Dukes of Hazzard' pulled from screens by CBS as outcry over Confederate flag grows
Game of Thrones season 6: Release date, plots and dragons - everything we know so far
Game of Thrones: Leaked season six script introduces new 'red priestess' and hints at Daenerys Targaryen's next chapter
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture