Krapp’s Last Tape

Aug 8 2017 | By More

★★★★☆  Slow but compelling

Church Hill Theatre (EIF): Fri 4 – Sun 27 Aug 2017
Review by Dylan Taylor

Bringing Beckett to the Edinburgh International Festival, Irish Production Company Clare Street gives a fittingly understated treatment to Krapp’s Last Tape.

With only a table, tape recorder, and overhead lamp for illumination, the surroundings are sparsely decorated. The entirety of the play revolves only around the character of Krapp, an elderly man played here by the renowned Barry McGovern, who has made several appearances in stagings of Beckett’s work.

Barry McGovern in Krapp’s Last Tape. Pic Beth Chalmers

McGovern spends the majority of the play’s running time sitting at his table, listening to an old recording of his own younger self. Much of the dialogue of the play comes from this more youthful Krapp, who with his reflective, careful enunciations, seems to channel Boris Karloff.

The effect is both good and bad. The narration at first sounds slightly affected, but begins to seem well-fitted to the scenario once the voice starts speaking of a woman from Krapp’s past.

McGovern spends much of the time staring out into the audience or, with a dazed look, at his surroundings. He does little speaking throughout the play, which gives an added weight to the words he does choose to say. Even his groans become important clues to what might be fuelling Krapp’s inner struggle.

This is subtle stuff – blink, and you might miss some of the play’s most expressive moments. McGovern has a real understanding of Beckett’s nuanced and difficult style, successfully walking a fine line between dark humour and existential despair. Sometimes he teeters closer to the one side, and sometimes the other.


There are idiosyncrasies in the play which add touches of the absurd to an otherwise quite ordinary situation. Krapp opens the play with the rather un-extraordinary act of eating, with deliberation, two entire bananas, which he keeps in his drawer.

The scene is drawn out and mostly silent, and could easily become dull if not properly handled. Michael Colgan’s direction instead draws out a darkly humorous tension that keeps the action engaging. Colgan is to be commended for both his willingness to keep the production low-key, and his ability to bring out the play’s heavy atmosphere. Both McGovern and Colgan are apt judges of how to best bring out the humour underlying these scenes.

A play like Krapp, which is arguably only as good as the abilities of its actor, can easily be a hit or a miss. McGovern’s ability to burrow into the psyche at the heart of Beckett’s play make his interpretation a success.

It is a success that may go easily unrecognised, such is its subtlety, as is that of the lighting design of James McConnell. But such simplicity is deceiving. It is clear that a great deal of thought has gone into this production, allowing it to effectively do justice to its source material.

Running time: 45 minutes (no interval)
Part of the Edinburgh International Festival
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Friday 4 – Sunday 27 August 2017
Evenings (not Thurs 10 – Sun 13, Wed 16, Tue 22): 8pm,
Afternoons: Sat19/Sun 20, Thurs 24, Sat 26/Sun 27: 3pm.
Tickets from EIF website:

EIF Twitter: @edintfest
EIF Facebook: @EdintFest

The script of Krapp’s Last Tape is available to buy on Amazon. Click on the image below for details:


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