The pairing up of two short plays always requires a delicate balance. Hull Truck Theatre has selected two monologues that address questions of life, loss and mortality for its latest offering in the building’s main house. Spoonface Steinberg by Lee Hall takes us into the life and mind of a young autistic girl who has terminal cancer, whilst Beckett considers the immediacy of death from the perspective of a 69-year-old man, unable to stop himself from looking back over his life.
Points of view are contrasted in this double bill. Spoonface, by the writer of Billy Elliot, deals with the difficult subject of life being cut unduly short, yet there is a strong sense of optimism in this simple and straightforward piece. Hall strips death of all pretension; there is something starkly real about Pippa Duffy’s innocent Spoonface. Duffy engages well with the tricky combination of innocence and awareness that Spoonface grapples with throughout the piece, prefiguring Krapp, who is torn between looking forwards and getting lost in the past.
As with any monologue, the challenge here was always going to be to create a visual life. Delivered direct to the audience by Duffy, Spoonface felt deliberately static. The microphone stand on stage pays tribute to the piece’s conception as a radio play and reminds us of Spoonface’s own love of singing, but acts as a physical barrier between us and her. Activity was limited, as Spoonface gradually adds ornaments to her initially simplistic costume. This sketched out the progression of the narrative well, but at times Fabrice Serafino’s set design and Katherine Williams’s lighting became a little too interesting in the quest for something to draw the eye. However, Duffy is believable as a seven-year-old, and delivers many lines with a wry understanding of adult behaviour, revealing that when doctors smile, “it means there’s something wrong”.
Krapp’s Last Tape was also brought to life behind the physical barrier of a desk laden with a hefty tape recorder and boxes of tapes. However, Alan Williams brought this claustrophobic environment beautifully to life with a performance alive with a delicious staccato rhythm that kept the audience guessing throughout. Pauses were relished, as they should be, and frenetic activity matched with more laid back, languid moments. Williams’s pacing is pitch perfect throughout, and entertains with a banana as proficiently as he haunts with his staring, empty eyes. He embodies Krapp’s staunch need for control in every movement, every word, and is genuinely quite mesmerising. The sense of space and situation was particularly strong here, with Krapp’s ventures off stage to pop a cork and pour a drink evoking an eerie sense of his entire house within the auditorium.
An evening perhaps not of high drama but certainly of questions and emotions. Two insightful pieces into the human mind and the human condition; Spoonface may have benefitted from a little more movement and freedom, but it set up an interesting contrast to the wave-like fluidity of Beckett’s text, and both certainly tackled troubling topics head-on.
Spoonface Steinberg and Krapp’s Last Tape were at Hull Truck Theatre.
Image credit: Hull Truck