Krapp's Last Tape

Church Hill Theatre

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Until August 27

Meet Me At Dawn

Traverse Theatre

Until August 27

Reviewed by Mark Brown

KRAPP'S Last Tape, Samuel Beckett's great monodrama in which an old man remembers his life, has attracted some of the greatest actors of the modern age. The late John Hurt famously committed the character to film, as did Harold Pinter.

In my time, I have had the good fortune to see such outstanding actors as Michael Gambon, Gerard Murphy and Rick Cluchey of the San Quentin Drama Workshop (a Beckett protégé) give memorable stage performances of the play. Just as every young actor is said to have to find their "inner clown", many a great, older actor is compelled to discover his "inner Krapp".

The key to any strong performance of this articulate, irascible, splendidly flawed Everyman is finding what Virginia Woolf might have called "a Krapp of one's own". There can be no doubt that the fine Irish actor Barry McGovern has done precisely that in this intelligent and moving production, directed by Michael Colgan.

There are, of course, certain givens embedded in Beckett's text. Krapp should always have, as McGovern's delightfully nuanced performance has, a balance between the ruefulness of age and an almost adolescent pleasure in language ("spoool", "viduity").

However, such is the brilliance of Beckett's writing, Krapp also lends himself to a wide variety of interpretations. McGovern's rendering is strong on frustration, with old age, life, love, sex, and, deliciously, the "stupid b****** I took myself for 30 years ago". There is a particular violence in Krapp's irritations (in one moment the spools of tape are thrown forcefully across onto the floor), which contrasts affectingly with the man's playfulness and contemplation.

Like all great Krapps, McGovern's individualism achieves a profound evocation of every theatregoer's own personal life. That is the great paradox of this extraordinary play, and one realised beautifully here.

Contemplation and an evocation of inner life are also the prominent features of Meet Me At Dawn, the latest play from leading Scottish dramatist Zinnie Harris. A play for two actors and one character, the piece finds Robyn (Neve McIntosh) confronting the death of her lover, Helen (Sharon Duncan-Brewster).

Set in an indeterminate psychological space (somewhere between a desolate shore, an uninhabited island and the kitchen of the home the couple once shared), the play traces Robyn's journey through the stages of grief: namely, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

There is a risk that, in fitting this well-established theory of psychotherapy to a dramatic situation, Harris might have created a theatre work that verged on the schematic. However, there is a heartfelt humanity, in both the writing and the acting, that overcomes this danger.

The play is a gentle, anguished consideration of grief, of letting go, holding on and moving forward. Over its 85 minutes, it insinuates its way into one's emotions and psyche, becoming a close-fitting metaphor for any kind of loss one has suffered in one's own life.

That it does so is testament not only to Harris's writing, but also to the acting of McIntosh and Duncan-Brewster, and the directing of Orla O'Loughlin. McIntosh's Robyn is utterly convincing in the rawness of her grief, particularly when she argues angrily with Helen, who is, moment by moment, slipping away from her and reforming as memory.

Duncan-Brewster has an equally challenging task, playing a character who is, simultaneously, herself and a creation of another character's imagination. Existing, as it were, on both banks of the River Styx, she achieves an emotive balance between the corporeal and the ethereal.

O'Loughlin's production is suitably gentle and subtle, all the better to allow the play to move through one wave by humane wave.