Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett is being performed in March as part of the Irish Festival. Think Magazine spoke to John Comer, who plays Krapp, and Pavlina McEnchroe, who is directing the play.
Think: So why Krapp in the first place?
Pavlina: I began looking for a short text last autumn which would at the same time work as more than a skit, something which would compress the sort of experience gained from a play of normal length into a size and duration suitable for what you could call the Prague fringe. I also set out from the beginning to direct a small-cast or one-man show. One of the problems of English theater staged abroad is the unevenness often found in the acting.
A cast of ten which contains two excellent actors cannot be saved by their presence alone. As a result you often find audiences coming out after the performance lukewarm about the play but enthusing about one or two roles. The result is the same - the play suffers.
Anyway, to answer your question, Beckett seemed an obvious choice for such a project and, not wanting to do Waiting for Godot, which people already know far too well, Krapp's Last Tape came across as the strongest and most suitable work. We also knew the perfect actor for the part; John Comer.
Pavlina: Yes. Given the language of the play I wanted a native Irishman for the part. But also not somebody too young. The play is about someone looking back and appraising his life and to cast someone in their twenties would have made it difficult for the audience to believe in the play.
Interestingly, John is thirty-nine, exactly the age of young Krapp, the taped altar-ego with whom old Krapp speaks on stage.
Think: John, was relating to the character your initial starting point?
John: For me acting is always a matter of imagining myself as the character. For the younger Krapp it's not too difficult. We have a fair bit in common. He's the same age as me, 39, and I can relate to some of his character traits, though they're in a more exaggerated form in Krapp.
Think: Though on stage you appear as mouldy old Krapp.
John: That's right. Krapp's the kind of miserable old b*stard you see all the time on the tram or shaking his stick at you in the park for walking on the grass. The interesting thing is the way Beckett gets inside the mind of someone like that, someone you wouldn't give a second thought to.
In the opening part of the play Krapp comes across as a senile old fool, muttering to himself and performing eccentric rituals. Later, you begin to recognize the powerful intellect behind the silly exterior. It's very slapstick at the start, very funny, but it becomes gradually more serious and you get drawn into the character.
Think: And combining the two?
John: Beckett says in the stage directions "a late evening in the future." That was a cue for me to think of old Krapp as a projection of the younger one, even though the younger one is only a disembodied voice. Some mornings I wake up feeling like I'm 69, so maybe it's not too much of a stretch. I also think about my dad and some of his gestures, but again it's mostly a matter of imagining myself at that age. I'm afraid it's all too likely I'll be a miserable old sod myself.
Pavlina: Krapp's such a pig, which is why it's not an easy play for a woman to direct. In fact I'm not even sure it can be directed by a woman. That's what makes it an interesting challenge. Krapp is so arrogant. The way he talks about his women and the way he treats them is disgusting.
John: Yeah, but at least He's got a certain charm - I mean in his younger days - he comes across as a kind of charming scoundrel. Even while He's being cruel, he loves women, is fascinated by them.
Think: What are the central themes that Beckett is addressing?
John: There's so much compressed into such a short play - issues of life, death, love, work, regret and there's this quite Oedipal relationship with the mother underpinning the whole thing. As for understanding the text, the five of us working together has been great. Everyone brings their own particular viewpoint into this think-tank and I think we managed to really penetrate into it and find things that no one individual can get, even from several readings. Everyone's contributions have been extremely important in that respect.
Pavlina: For me, the rehearsals have been some of the most satisfying I've ever been involved in, a feeling which is shared by everybody involved in the play. In the first two weeks we worked very hard on the text. Going over intonation, pauses, which are vital in all of Beckett's work, silence as compared to pauses. We didn't try to force the meaning.
This would have seemed to me a mistake. The play is highly musical in the way that the language is structured and this is what I have tried to catch. I hope that the sense of the play will come through this, rather than some externally assembled schemata placed upon it. This is not to say, however, that we didn't form certain conclusions about Krapp himself. The meetings we had on the text were like the investigation of a crime, picking up clues, forming a history and motivation for this very strange character.
Think: What's in it for the audience?
Pavlina: I want the audience to get inside Krapp's mind, but he should be separated from them by a barrier. He's locked into his own world, surrounded by darkness. He's not communicating directly with them, so it should be a fly-on-the-wall experience, with the audience witnessing this man's private communication with himself.
Think: Thank you both very much.
KRAPP'S LAST TAPE
John Comer: Krapp
Pavlina McEnchroe: director, stage designer
William McEnchroe: dramaturg
Kuba Schwartz: sound engineer
Sile NiBhroin: stage manager
Theater: Damuza, Retezova ul.
Tickets: 80 Kc at the door