It’s a bold move. Taking direct inspiration from the most iconic Irish playwright of the twentieth century, Samuel Beckett, actor and writer Michael Laurence has undoubtedly set a high bar.
But rather than attempting this high-jump, Laurence grabs hold of his own expectation and moulds it around himself, avoiding a copy-cat take of Beckett’s subtle philosophies. Instead, Krapp 39 shapes and personalises Beckettian themes of failure, memory, and identity into this modern transferral of Beckett’s work, and it’s about time too.
Its premise is simple, relatively. Laurence seeks to replicate the events of Beckett’s more recognised one (or two, or three?) man play, Krapp’s Last Tape, by recording himself and capturing his life at 39-years-old. This is completed with the intention that, in 30-years time, reaching the 69 year playing age of Krapp, Laurence will be able to take on Beckett’s role to analyse a genuine recording of himself from the accurate time gap implied in Krapp’s Last Tape.
In a post-millennial era, where definitions of identity are shifting in light of online and technological expression, it’s a wonder why Beckett’s work hasn’t been reinterpreted in such a way before this production. Through self-proclaimed ‘autobiographical documentary theatre’, Laurence uses a live-stream camera to project himself onto a TV screen, accompanied with an age-defining apple mac, a microphone and a desk cluttered with personal memories in order to collate his own perception of identity up until this very moment.
Thoughts, anecdotes, lists, past conversations and children’s essays dart around the room and are successfully minimalised through audio-visual accompaniment. Interwoven with a beautifully paced, structured and delivered commentary, the documentation of Laurence’s life flows naturally. He possesses a captivating self-awareness necessary to make an interesting subject of scrutiny. His words are poetic, unpretentious and philosophical by nature, supported by a soothing, huskily velvet voice which fluidly takes us from one year to the next, from philosophical musing to existential uncertainty.
Krapp 39’s only hitch is a case of the play’s esoteric nature. Despite Laurence’s strong and comprehensible voice, the production is littered with finely tuned references to Krapp’s Last Tape (such as a scoffing of a banana surrounded by outer edges of stage darkness). The driving motivation behind the piece is the play itself, so those not apart of the Beckett fan club may struggle to fully appreciate the implications of Krapp 39.
Outcast or club member, Laurence finds an optimism which Beckett refused to acknowledge, all within a compelling format. We can now only to wait on the edge of our seats with knocking knees for 30 brief years to see if Laurence will reprise the role that it’s all been for, supposedly.
Krapp 39 is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard, Venue 33, until 29 August. For more information and tickets, see the Pleasance Theatre website.