Review: Theatre: Krapp's Last Tape Crucible, Sheffield 32/40

Guardian (UK) |


The great irony of going to see Richard Wilson in Krapp's Last Tape is that you almost can't see him at all. Alex Lowde's architectural design keeps the actor entirely enclosed within a dingy, slowly revolving cabin, whose begrimed windows and overripe atmosphere of old bananas suggests a zoo enclosure where one has to squint for a glimpse of a nocturnal primate going about its business. Though eye strain becomes a severe possibility, the genius of Polly Findlay's production is to recognise that Beckett's 1958 play is not so much a visual event as one of the earliest examples of a sound installation. As the glass cocoon has potential to render Wilson inaudible as well as invisible, Krapp's dialogue with his tape recorder is relayed through an array of loudspeakers. The Tannoy-like quality transforms the timbre of Wilson's voice into an electronically-treated effect: the lugubrious manner in which he lingers over the word "spool" sounds discomfortingly salacious. The concept serves as a reminder that the play was written in Paris around the same time that avant garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis instigated experiments with electroacoustic composition and musique concrete. Beckett's opening stage direction specifies that the action is set in "a late evening in the future". Whose future? Krapp's? Beckett's? Our own? Findlay's production recognises that Krapp's Last Tape is not just a retrospective period-piece about an old man fiddling with an antediluvian tape machine, but a verbal tone poem delivered by someone who, for all his intransigence, has proved capable of harnessing the latest technology. Krapp's Last Tweet, perhaps. Alfred Hickling Until 19 July. Box office: 0114-249 6000.

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