Jermyn Street Theatre, London – until 8 February 2020
Memories, decay and the voices that play in our heads. Beckett, the master of the interior monologue, that voice that never lets you still, waking or even sleeping. You could argue, as indeed does the wonderful Lisa Dwan in her note to this Beckett Triple Bill directed by Trevor Nunn, that all of Beckett’s plays try to lay the ghost of these incessant voices, that by verbalising them dramatically, theatrically, they can somehow be slain.
Of course, they can’t. But Beckett has shown us the universality of our attempt to still those interior voices in playlets of insistent intensity.
Nunn’s chosen three include the play that Harold Pinter chose for his stage swan song, Krapp’s Last Tape (1958); Eh Joe (1965 and originally written for radio) had the inestimable Michael Gambon as its interpreter in one of its most recent stagings (2006). The Old Tune was something completely new to me – Beckett’s ‘ free translation’ apparently of Frenchman Robert Pinget’s La Manivelle (The Crank, 1960).
But listening to Niall Buggy and David Threlfall remembering – or dis-remembering – old times, their memories fractured by age and passing years – is to be reminded just how much Pinter was indebted to Beckett, or influenced by Beckett.
The famous scene in No Man’s Land (1974) between Spooner and Hirst when they reminisce about certain society women they have known finds an almost exact echo in Buggy’s Gorman and Threlfall’s white-haired Mr Cream recalling local wives and daughters from long ago whom Buggy’s Gorman remembers so much more clearly and with more relish than Threlfall’s sad but dapper, lonely widower.
Buggy as ever is a joy. Whether eyes bright with reconnection or, as in Eh Joe, pierced by Lisa Dwan’s lacerating, unforgiving voice-over conscience-pricker about old loves, his presence beams straight into your heart.
All three playlets tell the story of our common human factor of fragmentation of identity, ageing, and decay. In Krapp’s Last Tape – and what a joke Beckett plays with its title – James Hayes confronts the extinguishing light through the medium of a tape of himself recorded thirty years earlier telling of a sunlit moment on a river with a woman as he lies across her and they are gently rocked together without moving.
Again and again he will return to that scene with an increasingly fierce kind of anger.
James Hayes’ Krapp captures an intense sadness without perhaps the lethal fury Pinter brought to his swan song performance.
It’s touching, affecting enough but not one that strikes terror into the soul. That doubtful accolade belongs to Eh Joe. With Buggy’s face enlarged on video-cam, magnifying every emotional twitch triggered by Dwan’s lilting, deep throated, merciless prompting, together they combine to make this the high-water mark of the evening.
© Robert Workman, Niall Buggy in Eh Joe…
Nunn’s production is, typically, well made. But for all of Louie Whitemore’s ingenuity in getting a gallon into a pint pot – a desk in Krapp, a large double bed and screen in Eh Joe and a mischievously malfunctioning street music box for The Old Tune – I couldn’t help thinking how these plays still and forever lend themselves more to radio than theatre production, to the intimacy and directness of the human voice transmitted by sound waves straight to the heart with their cadences and lyrical musicality.
Still four actors to be treasured in iconic pieces. A transfer beckons?
Krapp’s Last Tape/Eh Joe/The Old Tune
By Samuel Beckett
Krapp: (Krapp’s Last Tape): James Hayes
Joe (Eh Joe), Gorman (The Old Tune): Niall Buggy
The Voice (Eh Joe): Lisa Dwan
Cream (The Old Tune): David Threlfall
Director: Trevor Nunn
Designer: Louie Whitemore
Sound Designer: Max Pappenheim
Lighting Designer: David Howe
Associate Director: Cat Robey
Video Technician: Simon Nicholas
Costume Supervisor: Claire Nicholas
Presented by Jermyn Street Theatre.
First perf of this production of the Beckett Triple Bill, at Jermyn Street Theatre, London, January 15, 2020. Runs to Feb 8, 2020.
Review published on this site, January 23, 2020.
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