Tuesday, July 16

La Dernière Bande (Krapp’s Last Tape) – Stanley Theatre, University of Liverpool

On his sixty-ninth birthday, Krapp (Denis Lavant), as has become his custom, hauls out his old tape recorder to review one of the earlier years, and make a new recording commenting on the events of the previous twelve months. Whilst his younger self speaks to reveal an idealistic fool, will the passage of time reveal the kind of fool he has become?

This is the UK debut of director Jacques Osinski’s production – which opened the Avignon Festival in 2019 – that, performed in French with English surtitles, exposes the bleakness of recorded life. Indeed, almost seventy years since it was written, this one-act play remains as relevant – perhaps more so – in 2024, when we can so easily identify with its themes of isolation, reflection, and loneliness following our experiences during the recent pandemic and its consequences.

Christophe Ouvrard’s de minimis set in combination with Catherine Verheyde’s bare lighting scheme provides the necessary contrast between darkness and light with little room for shade or the suggestion that there is any illumination for Krapp, whether that be his life or costume designer Hélène Kritikos’ dark and drab outfit: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Photo: Pierre Grosbois

Lavant’s powerful performance is inspired with some wonderful choreography that holds our attention through the many silent sequences, most notably at the beginning. The moments of humour are touchingly portrayed with some fine acting that offers a hint of humanity in the surrounding darkness that evokes our sadness and sorrow at his behaviour, past and present, but not necessarily our sympathy.

Sympathy in fact is very much our personal choice and which this production allows us as an audience to make: whether we hope it is indeed his last tape and he will be put out of his misery, or whether it is merely his latest and he is destined – or perhaps doomed – to repeat this cycle ad infinitum. Equally, it holds up a mirror to us and how we live our lives: there is a bit of Krapp in all of us.

Beckett is revered for his experimental use of new medium and it is interesting that the exploration of reel-to-reel audio type recorder technology, which was relatively new in the 1950s, has arguably only been augmented through our modern digital age: how long can a memory live for? Does it ever get erased? Who decides?

The University of Liverpool’s Stanley Theatre provides the necessary intimacy and insight to enjoy this production although more comfortable seating and better management of the noise emanating from surrounding spaces should be explored.

La Dernière Bande performs in Liverpool and Paris as part of Unreal Cities’ Beckett: Unbound, Liverpool/Paris 2024, produced in association with the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool and the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris.

Further details including booking available for Liverpool at https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/humanities-and-social-sciences/research/beckett/ and Paris at https://www.centreculturelirlandais.com/en/whats-on/exhibitions-events/festival-beckett-unbound

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 30th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.