“I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.
Past midnight. Never knew such silence. The earth might be uninhabited.”
The haunting beauty of Beckett’s ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’, paired with Pinter’s chilling ‘A Kind of Alaska’ at the Bristol Old Vic until the 12th May. Simon Godwin directs with painstaking detail and sensitivity and teases out the aching poignancy and unbearable hopelessness streaked through both pieces. The language is at turns poetic, brutal, touching, sparse, but always gut-wrenchingly powerful, and shows these two craftsmen at their best.
‘…Alaska is an altogether ethereal experience. Pinter’s sharp, jagged, and unnervingly echoing piece has an overwhelming power to tease, haunt, and unsettle, especially in the beautifully intimate setting of the Bristol Old Vic Studio. Richard Bremmer (long a favourite actor of mine) brings a weary dignity to Hornby, a doctor who has dedicated his life to Marion Bailey’s childlike and anxious Deborah, who has just awoken after 29 years of being marooned in a ‘sleeping sickness’ called encephalitis lethargia. Still believing herself to be the lovestruck, vivacious teenager she was when consumed by illness, Deborah is suddenly forced to accept that both her and the world has shifted, even if her mind has not. Her sister, Pauline, played with a well-pitched tentativeness by Carolyn Backhouse, has married Hornby, but considers herself a widow due to the unfailing devotion of her husband to the comatose Deborah. Bailey swings between coy girlishness, fury, and panicked victim, and uses those unmistakeable Pinteresque pauses to wonderful effect, her eyes conveying a thousand different emotions. Mike Britton’s cold and clinical hospital room and Dan Jones’ echoing soundscape of children’s laughter, crashing waves, and seagulls, do much to isolate both us and Deborah, as she struggles to come to terms with who she truly is.
After the interval, Bremmer returns as the ageing and crumbling loner, Krapp, in what many consider to be Beckett’s most moving play. On the night of his birthday, Krapp prepares to re-visit old recordings of previous musings on life, love, and the universe, whilst drowning himself in booze and eating bananas. Interacting with a 39 year-old version of himself, Krapp sits bathed in a warm but dim light, recalling and reminiscing with a mixture of anger, regret, joy, self-mockery, and bitterness, trying desperately to discover who he was, who he is, and who he will shortly no longer be. Needless to say, Bremmer is outstanding. His angular, hawk-like features are wonderfully Beckettian and the attention to detail in his performance cannot be faulted, every little movement, facial expression, and sound, is precise and beautifully observed. This is a Krapp as marooned as Deborah, and with only moth-eaten books, dusty canisters, and his trusty tape recorder for company, he both wallows and rejoices in his distant memories, hoping to unlock some secrets to himself.
Both stark and gloomy but with glimpses of hope and warmth, this double-bill of modern classics more than delivers and promise to linger in the memory. They do not always plumb the true depths of humanity, often leave questions unanswered and resolutions are mostly absent, and therefore, the actors allow for this. You feel there could be more, there is more, possibly even that there should be more. But then, with Pinter and Beckett, there is always more than meets the eye.