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The first is Samuel Beckett’s unsettling, baffling play about Krapp — on the verge of his threescore and ten, his identity unravelling, staring into the void of mortality and listening to a tape of his 30-years-earlier and seemingly more confident and competent self.
The second is Peter King’s exquisitely messy set, recalling his design for The Caretaker in 2014.
Everywhere, on the Studio’s limited performance space, there is stuff — industrial shelving, archival boxes, ancient electrical appliances, bits of obsolete sound equipment.
Krapp’s hunt for a banana seems to take forever; his search for Box 3 is complicated by the fact that it’s nowhere near either Box 2 or Box 4.
The sliding door behind which he intermittently retreats for drinks barely slides.
The light to which he returns to continue his inspection of his own life is only just bright enough to see by.
The third and by no means the smallest reason to go is Simon O’Connor’s astonishing performance.
Time means a lot in this play and O’Connor takes his, doddering, shuffling, gasping, examining the contents of a drawer at glacial pace and making the most of opportunities for mildly Chaplinesque comedy.
It is some minutes before he speaks.
Seemingly frail, yet oddly dignified, he amply demonstrates Krapp’s irascibility, but also gains the audience’s sympathy as Krapp’s dialogue with his younger self ("that stupid bastard I took myself for 30 years ago") recalls a lifetime’s frustration and hurt, and the great losses of his life — his mother, a barely glimpsed nursemaid and a woman with whom he’s shared sensual moments in a boat.
Jonathan Hendry’s direction is nothing short of brilliant and every second of this short (60 minutes) and highly charged production is absorbing.
It richly deserves a place on every serious theatre-lover’s to-do list.
The season will close on October 22.
- Barbara Frame
Krapp’s Last Tape
Fortune Theatre Studio, Sunday, October 2