Krapp’s Last Tape and Molloy by Samuel Beckett

I wonder if the prop man for Bob Wilson’s Krapp’s Last Tape as doing the rounds of Europe at the moment realises how many people hate him?

So, the first fifteen minutes, for those who have yet to see it, consist of a chap sitting at a desk while it rains…inside, I think, odd as that may be….eventually moving to a drawer at the front of his desk from which he pulls, and then puts back, two reels of tape. Fair enough, I thought, as he opens the drawer below, that is the one more likely to hold the last tape. And from this drawer he rather triumphantly discovers a banana which he eats. Slowly. No, fucking slowly.

Fifteen minutes and nothing has happened. I’m thinking I could have stayed home, eaten my own banana and saved 45 bucks. But to be fair, the audience is hooked, surely now something is going to happen. And indeed it does.

He goes back to the drawer and, in the single greatest misfortune for theatre audiences since the Mexican director Gonzalez Fernando Gonzalez decided to do a rhumba version of Hamlet, he pulls out – another banana. Dead set. You can do that in something that is 3 hours long, but this is one hour 15, we are into the last hour and he is about to start eating his second banana. The prop man has a lot to answer for. He was the audience’s last line of defence.

Traitor.

I have to say, I napped through the rest of it, but to be fair, if need be, that is, given the banana debacle, the guy was miked. What’s that about? If I want to go to the theatre and listen to people with weak voices booming away with mikes, I’ll go to see an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Professional theatre is about making one’s voice work without the aurally offensive use of artificial aids. Maybe napping was just my escape.

I’m sorry, Bob Wilson, I know you are super super famous and avant-garde and you’d done Philip Glass and you are a towering figure of experimental theatre, but I think you’ve fucked this one up.

Added a couple of days later: oh, just to prove how fantastic this play is, forcing me to make it five stars, watch Pinter doing the part in a Royal Court production (you can do this on youtube if you have to). All the crap in Wilson’s version, both technological and comic, if that is what the banana scene is meant to be, are absent. Strangely, there is uncalled for technology – a wheel chair, because Pinter had just been extremely ill and didn’t have the physical strength to get up for the off stage moments – but as you could imagine, if you know the play, this is a fortuitous meeting of reality with stage craft.

It isn’t often that I get the chance to watch any English theatre in Geneva, let alone top professional theatre. It was all the more reason I felt betrayed by this tedious technologically obsessed Beckett brought here by Wilson. Redemption was at hand, however, when a couple of months later, Denis and the crew at Glas brought Conor Lovett to town to play Beckett’s Molloy. Wow. I don’t know what I’d do without GLAS since they bring the only theatre to Geneva that makes me truly happy. (I know, I know, if I ever get French, theatre in that language might do it). Lovett’s Molloy is everything that Wilson’s Krapp lacked. Brilliant comic timing – with no props whatsoever – and tremendous warmth. As I was walking out, I wished I could have turned the clock back 1 hour and 15 minutes to do it all again. I hope I get to see everything in the repertoire of the Gare St Lazare Players. Another triumph for GLAS.

These are two very different pieces. Both are moving, but Molloy is genuinely hilarious, I don’t recall seeing a Beckett that has made me laugh like this did, whereas Krapp’s Last Tape is harrowing. But you have to see the right performances to see this, so take care to do that!