The moment Michael Gambon slowly and painfully moves his body upwards from being slumped on the table and raises his wonderful piano fingers in agony to cover his face, we know we are in the presence of the last of a line of famous clowns.
The kind of clown whose tears move our soul, and whose utter confusion mirror our own helplessness in the face of an overwhelming world.
In Krapp's Last Tapes, now playing at the Duchess Theatre, Gambon’s elegant fingers cradle his face not just to hide it, but to hide his terminal, unbearable misery from us. His chalky white face has lost the sophisticated, lived-in look of years ago, and now reeks of only pain. Rueful, woeful, wistful, words of great emotional impact appear in our mind. The voice on the tapes he plays - spoken by his younger self - are those of the famous actor we knew, the hypnotic, melodious, honey voice with perfect English diction. Only now it is croaky and has a tacky Dublin lilt. (You can hear the Dublin fruit market women crowing, "Take that baby off the bananas, missus". But instead we get the Great Gambon doing funny things with the bananas, like a senile old man enamoured with his former sexual prowess.)
But there is always that mournful, rueful side too, which shows the tender yearning that is so much a part of this character. It hints at what could have been and how he could have been, had Krapp just allowed himself to pursue love and to learn to love, and not just used it for comforting his loneliness.
Here we see a life badly lived at its end, and the terrible loneliness breaks your heart. Here we see an angry and bitter man, waiting for death to release him. Becket conveys this with utter simplicity, he shows us the essence of this life without elaborate staging, just by words. The almost erotic use of words - SPOOLS of them - that is Beckett at his best. And Gambon can deliver that with relish, delicacy, and passion.
A great actor meets a great playright.
- The Southbank Gourmande
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