Krapp lies hunched over his desk, blue waves playing on his grey hair and the sound of sloshing water transporting his dreams back to ‘that memorable night in March at the end of the jetty’. It makes for a vulnerable first image of the man yet when he wakes, and Tom Owen turns his piercing eyes out on to the audience, the light instantly robs him of the momentary peace of dreams and Beckett’s cantankerous old git rises again.
This Krapp isn’t just swaying in the doorway between this life and the next, but feels as if he has already fallen through, the decay taking hold down his stained shirt. Though at the same time, there is evidently life in the old dog yet, and as he scurries off stage for books and bottles and boxes you start to question whether his decline may, like all things, just be part of Krapp’s performance to the world. Owen makes a suitably gruff, phlegmy and prickly Krapp, but from the very first ‘spooool’ he seems to be making an outward demonstration rather than just relishing the words internally.
Despite a competent performance from the Last of the Summer Wine actor, if there are any thrills to be found in this production it is in the eternal poetry of Beckett’s text rather than Fiona Baddeley’s uninspiring direction. With Beckett’s estate maintaining a vice like grip on a script where the playwright has practically specified where the actor should draw each breath, it still falls on a director to bring Krapp’s memories alive for the audience. The recorded passages evoke neither the Krapp of old, the multiple characters of his recollection, nor the poetic dichotomies that give this monologue its richness, and by all but omitting Krapp the Clown Baddeley makes curiously little of Beckett’s rich imagery.
One of the most compelling sights on the stage is that of the tape-player seemingly malfunctioning, shitting a pile of of stool-brown tape onto the floor which is then rewound up tight. As visual allegories go it is inspired, the waste of Krapp’s life spewed and swallowed again and again; if only it didn’t feel suspiciously like a beautiful mistake into which a frustrated audience finds themselves desperately reading too much.