Krapp’s Last Tape.
The play opens with Krapp sitting on his own behind an old desk. Aged 69, a writer filled with sadness and regret. Since his early childhood Krapp has yearned for happiness. Upon reaching adulthood, on each birthday he has made an annual tape recording of his activities the previous year. The day on which the play is set Krapp sits at his desk. It is sometime in the early evening. Every year since he was 24, Krapp a failed writer, has recorded his impressions on tapes which he has catalogued in a ledger and locked in a box. The play depicts Krapp as a weary old man, a clown like figure. He is wearing trousers that are too short for him, a sleeveless waistcoat, and a dirty looking white shirt without a collar. Upon his feet there is a pair of dirty white boots, very long, very narrow and pointed. He has a pale face that seems to accentuate his purple nose. He begins eating a banana, throwing the skin onto the floor he begins to chew, staring into the distance. He turns and walks, slipping on the banana peel, clown like. This is a bit of comic relief but the play is also tragic as you soon realise you are looking at a lonely old man, unfulfilled, full of regret, full of bitterness.
Krapp sits at his desk and begins to look in his ledger. He is looking for a particular set of events. He finds what he seeks, box three spool five. He speaks, “box three, spool five, box three, spoooooool fivvvve” and laughs at his own little joke. His eyesight is not what it used to be, after all he is 69 and the years of writing in dark rooms have done him no favours. Peering at the journal he begins to read an entry made 30 years previously when he was 39. He fails to remember the events of which he has written. “Memorable equinox”? “Farewell to love”, as he listens he peers into the distance, a blank look upon his face. He reflects upon the past, he begins to relive the past while still in the present. He start the tape running, “39 today, sound as a bell apart from my old condition” he hears his younger self begin. As he listens he tries to forget while at the same time remembering. He tries to manipulate the spool, stopping and fast forwarding in order to block out events. Krapp drinks a lot, maybe he is hoping to block out the past or the visions that haunt him? “Viduity” he hears the voice say, what does that mean? Krapp looks in a dictionary, “Viduity. That state or condition of being or remaining a widow or widower” Being or Remaining, these words seem to have an effect upon Krapp and we will return to them again.
Krapp listens to his younger self describe an episode in a punt with a young lady, was this his one chance of love? He stops the tape as he tries to remember, rewinding the tape he replays it, he begins to relive the night as he listens to his younger self describe the events of the night. He appears to bend over the tape machine, hugging it; touching it with his cheek in a display of intimacy he closes his eyes. Reaching out he turns off the tape, slowly he sits up, and looking into the distance he wipes his eyes and sobs.
Krapp takes out his watch from the pocket of his waistcoat, peering at its face. A look of loss and regret is written upon his face and he pours another drink. He begins to load an empty spool onto the tape machine as he prepares to record his latest tape. He reaches into the pocket of his waistcoat and pulls out a slip of paper, looks at it but puts it down. He turns on the machine and begins to speak. “Hard to believe I was as bad as that”, he looks into the distance and begins to remember the girl in the punt, “the eyes she had”. Once again he stops the tape.
Starting the tape once more he begins to speak, his voice full of frustration, “Maybe he was right, maybe he was right” he says. He stops the tape. Once more he looks at the slip of paper, screws it up and throws it away. He starts the tape, speaking into the microphone he realises his failure as a writer. “Seventeen sold of which eleven were at trade price”. He realises he has sacrificed his life and soul for nothing and each new day brings nothing but new tears and a step nearer to death. He could have been happy with her; instead he has attempted to find solace with banana’s, alcohol, and old whores. This he realises is his last tape, “leave it at that, leave it at that”
“Be again, be again” The play ends with Krapp listening once more to spool five and the nights events spent in a punt with the love he could have had. A look of despair upon his face as he realises his loss. “Be again, be again.”
Time and memory are constant themes throughout Beckett’s play’s, they seem to stress the importance of ‘being’ within the human psyche. Being involves thinking and remembering. Remembering involves thinking of things that are not happening now, but happened before. We therefore exist both in the past and in the present. This is why time and memory are absurd. Beckett allows the viewer/reader to interpret human existence with all its pains and joys while at the same time refusing to be drawn on his own thoughts. What you see is what you get, there is no more. In many ways Krapp is everyman for we all have regrets. How many of us would not turn the clock back if we could? Beckett also uses light and darkness within many of his plays to emphasise the passage of time. Light and darkness is also used to open and close the performance rather than the use of the curtain as seen in traditional theatre. The use of light and darkness is a theme that runs throughout the play and we see it in the white dog playing with the black ball. On another occasion we hear Krapp reminiscing about the stark white uniform of the young woman pushing the black perambulator. This absence of colour draws you into the play and in some ways you begin to feel connected to the character.
Shakespeare wrote “to be or not to be”. Krapp sits listening to silence. He will inevitably die and his voice will also be silenced. He will no longer be and he will no longer remain. This play is longer than the text would first suggest as it is full of stops and starts and periods of silence. These periods allow you to reflect upon the theme of Beckett’s play and marvel at the actor’s portrayal of this comic yet profoundly tragic figure. You too are left with a feeling of loss for the character of Krapp.
Upper image = John Hurt in a potrayal of Krapp.
Middle image = John Hurt in a portrayal of Krapp.
Lower image = Samuel Beckett.
My apologies to those who follow this blog for my silence over the past few weeks. Upcoming exams are my excuse. May I wish you all a glorious Spring Equinox. I hope you enjoy my little review of Krapp's Last Tape. For those who wish to view some of Samuel Becketts play's they can be accessed on You Tube and I highly recommend you do so.