Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 39 pages; 2001.
Is it possible to say anything that hasn’t already been said about Samuel Beckett’s much-produced, much-loved play Krapp’s Last Tape? Type the title into Google and you’ll get more than 90,000 entries, which isn’t bad for such a slim volume.
The play was first performed in October 1958 by Northern Irish actor Patrick Magee at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Since then everyone from Albert Finney to John Hurt have traipsed the boards, playing the sole character of this one-man play.
In Krapp’s Last Tape an elderly world-weary man sits at a desk to make an annual recording on his birthday. He is 69.
In his tape recorder he finds an earlier tape, one that was made when he was 39, and so he listens to it in bursts — fastforwarding it in places, rewinding it in others — while he takes notes in the present.
What emerges is that despite the passing of time — 30 years to be precise — Krapp does not seem to have lead a very fulfilling or productive life and his best memories are snatches of stolen moments, whether it be walking the dog or making love to a woman, from the past. Indeed the older Krapp describes the younger version as a “stupid bastard” and finds it “hard to believe I was ever as bad as that”.
Essentially this is a play about memory, sexuality, the purpose of life, and death. But it’s one that can be read over and over to discover new meanings and new insights. Not having seen it performed live, I imagine that it doesn’t fully come into its own until the words are given proper voice by a real actor. Thank goodness, then, for YouTube, where I found this rather good version that very much enhances the reading:
* Embers, the second play within this slim volume, was specially written for radio and first performed in 1959. In it a man called Henry walks along the beach thinking about his dead father while other familar voices, including his wife Ada and his young daughter Addie, speak to him from the past.