‘The Play’s The Thing’


Krapp’s Last TapeFred & Alice and Beckett on Barracka.

So the time has come to dedicate my academic future to the area of modern drama. Interestingly this is not the idea for a dissertation I began the MA in Modernities with but instead I have found myself returning to my first love. No one who has been following this blog will be surprised that I have finalised on the late plays of Samuel Beckett for my dissertation topic. Having in the past been fascinated with Beckett, and by extension experimental theatre, my interest in contemporary drama for various reasons had waned in the last few years. With my renewed interest I have found myself attending three plays in the last two weeks having possible attended three in as many years up to that point. I reason if this is the area I intend spending the rest of my academic career investigating it was long overdue to re-engage with the medium.

The first of these three performances was, not surprisingly, a Beckett play. I travelled to Dublin last week to see John Hurt in the celebrated Gate Theatre production of Krapp’s Last Tape. I had seen filmed versions of this play over the years but never had seen it performed live. It is a play that I always found quite moving, filled with a sense of loss for the past and the contemplation of a life winding down to an inevitable stop. John Hurt in the title role captured this emotion state excellently. His performance was flawless. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that the audience were slightly uncomfortable with the sheer bleakness of Beckett’s play. The sold out audience seemed to shift uncomfortably in their seats, engaging in a process of seeking out humour at points in the play where I believe none were intended. This is a reoccurring theme, of modern audiences expecting more humour in their theatre, which I have experienced with other productions of Beckett’s work such as the recent Beckett x 3 at the Everyman Palace in Cork. Despite this I found the final lines of the play so moving I couldn’t leave the theatre quickly enough to be alone with my thoughts without the interruption of other peoples’ interpretation. If there were any sense that Beckett was the wrong area of study for me they were banished that night. There was no turning back now.

Krapp’s Last Tape – Beckett on Film

Fred and Alice at the Voiceworks Studio on Cork’s North Mall was a completely different type of theatre but almost as rewarding, if not as challenging. This new venue which consisted of a tiny raised stage in what seemed to be a converted living room was once again packed, suggesting there still is a healthy audience for well made, engaging theatre. The two-hander production, with Ciaran Bermingham as Fred, he of Game of Thrones fame, and Cora Fenton as Alice, was also excellent example of what a minimal set and basic lighting can achieve when we are in the presence of two highly skilled and committed actors. There were much more laughs for the audience here in the light-hearted tall of two adults with learning disabilities who find each other and love in a care facility they both attend. The darker moments weren’t avoided either, skilfully handled by an excellent script by John Sheehy who also directed the show. The production stated forcefully that new, engaging theatre doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have to be avant-garde to be relevant.

Footfalls – Beckett on Film

The final show I attended could not have been more different to Fred and Alice, both in intention and effect. Gaitkrash Theatre presented a highly innovative multimedia event above Bradley’s pub on Barrack street which used elements of Beckett’s Not I and Footfalls in a series of performances, installations and sound works. The audience was limited to twenty people and was moved through a series of different rooms to engage with the various work. Of most interest to me were the performances of Footfalls and the video installation of Not IFootfalls was performed by Bernadette Cronin with the first half in one room and the second half in another, after the intervening elements of a soundscape performance and Not I. I have seen Footfalls performed several times and I thought this was one of the most moving I have witnessed. While the strict lighting requirements of the original text were necessarily abandoned due to technical restrictions, Bernadette Cronin so perfectly handled the highly important internal rhythm of the play, in both movement and speech, the haunting effect was extremely well maintained. Even the fact that the play was broken into two separate halves in two different locations didn’t harm the growing physiological tension too critically and even, on one level, added to the ghostly elements of the actress’s presence. Not I however was less successful. The important image of the mouth was presented as a video installation, although unlike many other productions the important figure of the looming Auditor was retained. The mouth presented was a black and white video close up projected so it filled an entire wall of a small room. It did not feel like a live dramatic performance but more like a video installation. However the recitation of the text by Regina Crowley as the mouth was excellent, again capturing the rhythms so important to Beckett, the light and dark, the constantly moving words. Overall Gaitkrash’s multimedia event was absorbing, visceral and an extremely innovative way of presenting Beckett’s work; avant-garde theatre doing what experimental performance does best.

Three events. Three approach. All rewarding in their individual way.



Works Citied

Beckett on Film – FootfallsYoutube.com. 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.

Beckett on Film – Krapp’s Last TapeYoutube.com. 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.


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