Sunday, 28 November 2010
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Monday, 15 November 2010
1 hr 45 mins. No interval (there was one in the original production at the Royal Court in 1995, someone said, but the audience walked out in droves; this way they lock you in for the duration).
The notorious Sarah Kane shocker, and we've seen it at last. And frankly, none of us much enjoyed it. It owes a big debt to King Lear, to Beckett, to schlock-horror splatter movies and to reports of the war in Bosnia, but lacks the profundity and universal resonance of the first two, or the visceral impact of the third, and imports the fourth unconvincingly to Leeds.
The chief difficulty is that it's impossible to empathise with the characters, who seem drawn from stock and equipped with a repertoire of tics and verbal routines that don't quite add up. Beckettian bafflement and boredom was the result.
Some of the shock moments were pretty shocking. A soldier eats the eyes of a man he's just raped. A dead baby is eaten (truly revolting, that). But we wanted it to end not so much because it was shocking but because the violence made us uncomfortable without justification. And perhaps it's a reminder that the most powerful things are sometimes left unspoken or merely hinted at.
The scene is a hotel room. There are the sounds of civil unrest outside but the hotel seems to function normally, with room service and hot and cold running water. It's quite plush, though one of the first lines is "I've shat in better places than this".
There are just three characters. A middle-aged, alcoholic journalist (Danny Webb) apparently dying of lung cancer, a noisy boor who wears a gun in a shoulder hoslter. A girl (Lydia Wilson, whom we saw in Pains of Youth) of indeterminate age (16? 18? 21?) with whom he seems to have had a (presumably underage) sexual relationship at some point in the past. And a soldier (Aidan Kelly), who bursts in half-way through with a gun, abuses, rapes and mutilates the journalist (the girl having escaped through the bathroom window, apparently) and then lies dead during the last few scenes, though how he died we're not told and we don't see.
The characters have rudimentary backstories. The journalist has a wife and child. The girl has a mother and a younger brother with learning difficulties and, implausibly given the civil war outside and her apparent lack of education, she is hoping to get a job as PA in an advertising agency. The journalist scoffs at this, brtually, as he does virtually everything. We know he's a journaslist because at one point he phones through his story to a copytaker. It's about some tragic death abroad and he has presumably been to see the family, but the story he phones over is the kind of finished piece, including quotes from a Foreign office spokesman, that only a sub in the newsroom would produce, not a reporter on the road. The soldier too has a backstory: a girlfriend or wife who was brutally assaulted and killed. We are given the details though curiously I have forgotten them.
The dialogue, which is interspersed with long periods of silent action, is brutal, allusive and sometimes repetitive. The girls says she loves the journalist though what she means by that, and what we're meant to believe she means, is unclear. At the start he takes all his clothes off, grabs his willy and sasys "Suck on this". She refuses (too disgusted?) though later she does give him a blow-job. In bed overnight it seems he rapes her because she complains next morning of pain, struggles to get dressed and says she can't piss or shit; on the other hand, when they woke uop she was still wearing her bra and knickers. Was the assault imagined? Or does the actress not do nudity?
Halfway through there isd a massive explosion which destroys the hotel room leaving only a dark landscape of beams and struts, and the hotel bed. (Maybe it's this that kills the soldier??).
Towards the end the journalist, blinded, helpless and starving, is visited by the girl (why?) carrying a crying baby she's found. The baby dies and she buries it under the floorboards. At the end he digs the corpse up and starts to eat it, then climbs into the hole so that all that we can see of him is his head. It's immediately beneath a hole in the roof through which rain comes down to soak him. The girl returns (why had she gone? why does she come back?) and sharesd a morsel of food with him. By this stage the lights have gone down, leaving only a spotlight on the journalist's head. He says "Thank you". Blackout.
Redemption of sorts, I suppose, in an otherwise profoundly nihilistic play, though one that nags away at you demanding explanation and elucidation, which may be the mark of an effective piece of theatre.
Friday, 5 November 2010
Written by Penelope
We all look back. We all look forward. But how much time do we spend in the present? And do we enjoy looking back? That, partly, is what Samuel Beckett’s play, Krapp’s Last Tape, is about. But the Beckett afficionado who accompanied me laughed when I asked, just as the curtain went down, “So, what’s this about then?”. His answer was “Life”.
Michael Gambon plays Krapp – a curmudgeonly fellow, in a scruffy grey suit, with dirty white shoes, and a shirt tail, untucked, with a huge hole in the back. There is a desk on stage, a chair, and biscuit tins with tapes in them. Not much else. Gambon doesn’t speak for about the first 20 minutes but it’s a measure of his acting abilities that you’re not bored. You watch as he rolls his seat on wheels back and forth, opens and closes drawers, eats a banana and looks through tins of tapes. Gambon has enormous, pale hands, which seem to hang in a hopeless, almost useless way at times. He uses his large ungainly frame well.
Box 3, Spool 5. That seems to be the most important tape. He fast forwards the tape and reaches a section that he plays over and over again. Krapp is looking back on a love and we hear the yearning in his voice as he says “I lay over her, my head in her breasts. My hand on her”. Gambon’s Irish lilt and velvety voice make this little speech incredibly poignant. Is this the most significant moment in his life? As he listens to the tape, he seems bitter, he laughs and berates himself for looking back 30 years. He takes this spool off, puts it in a drawer and starts recording a new one, which he says will be the last. But he doesn’t continue. Instead, he gets Spool 5 out again and listens all over again. By now, we can remember the words too.
The play is only 50 minutes long and on first viewing, the structure seems loose. But Beckett was very precise in his plays – writing very detailed stage directions, down to the last gesture and piece of furniture. So it’s not loose at all but very controlled.
Whenever I go to Beckett, I always try to find meaning. He is ruthless, bitterly comic and dark. He is a pessimist's dream. But I think one of the things he’s trying to say here is to enjoy the moment, take the time to sit and stare, to look around you and enjoy what you have. When you look back, as Krapp does, even with nostalgia and longing, you won’t enjoy it as much as you could have done at the time.
A note about the venue – the Duchess Theatre has seen better days, and even though this play is short, it’s still £30 a ticket. Sadly, the evening I went, less than half the seats were occupied. Beckett isn’t easy, but he is rewarding and the theatre could re-think its pricing policy.