BWW Reviews: John Hurt Inspiring in KRAPP'S LAST TAPE at Kirk Douglas
-review by guest reviewer Steve Peterson
Krapp’s Last Tape, a Life Unspooled
It seems an easy acting assignment; sit at a table in the dark, wait for the lights to come up full, gather your thoughts, eat a banana or two, explore the limits of your playing area, bring out a few properties from the wings, including an old tape recorder, and then sit, listen, react and comment on what you hear on the tape until, finally, the lights fade to black.
It is what is on the tape—what must be on all the other tapes—that informs the play and fills the performance with vitality. It becomes apparent that we are witnessing a yearly ritual in which this man with the questionable last name sits down at the tape recorder and reflects upon the past year(s) and looks to the future. How silly the younger self seems to the older self, and how silly that older self seems to the present much older self, “happy to see the back of him.” Tonight, it’s different. This is the last tape. At age 69, Krapp has lost interest in all things; he can’t write anymore; he is alone, is reduced to occasional visits from a sad prostitute, and his physical well-being is collapsing from years of alcohol abuse. He has nothing to look forward to but death and that doesn’t seem too immanent—the fire of youth supplanted by a burning to be gone.
Or could it be that this is the most recent, the last in a continuing series of tapes reflecting on the processes of life; an examination of accomplishment and of promises unfulfilled. Yet, as the taped history of Krapp’s life spools out on the machine, one can’t help but think that it is spooling out metaphorically on the life of this man.
From the moment the lights begin to fade up and Krapp is seen staring blankly into space, gathering his thoughts, trying to remember why he sat down in the first place—what is it that he does on this day every year—John Hurt holds the audience’s attention and never lets go of it. This is the Everyman we’ve all experienced at one point or another. Before he speaks a word, the history of this man is evident on the worn-down body and care-worn face. This is a man to whom life has not been kind and he knows it, and yet, there is still a spark of life and an appreciation of things done or yet to come. Hurt’s grasp of this man’s humanity and his commitment to each moment—whether checking his watch, enjoying the sound and feel of words in his mouth, playing, rewinding, fast-forwarding the tape on the recorder, reveling in the memory of a youthful liaison or scolding himself for his foolish idealism of youth—never flags or fails. There is nothing rote or routine here. We witness a man in the fullness of his years, and wishing he had been able to get things to turn out better. A more fully realized character could not have been wished for. This is a consummate performance given by one of Britain’s finest actors in a play that looks at life with the unsparing eye of a playwright whose fatalistic view of existence is brilliantly expressed in one act.