First published in The Times, Wednesday October 6 2021
With his new production of Samuel Beckett’s one-act play, Dominic Hill’s tenure as artistic director of the Citizens Theatre has come full circle. A declared Beckett aficionado, Hill chose Krapp’s Last Tape to round off his first season in charge, back in 2012, with the late Gerard Murphy in the title role.
Murphy’s poignant, understated performance makes for a fascinating contrast with the bold brush strokes wielded by the actor Niall Buggy. The play famously presents a 69-year-old man encountering his younger self through the archive of reel-to-reel tapes he has made throughout his life. We see the elderly man here, pouring scorn on the affectation of his 39-year-old self, just as that incarnation, on tape, disparages himself as a youth. Buggy’s performance embodies all of these versions. In one moment we perceive the sprightliness of childhood; the next he is weighed down with regret.
Hill’s tight, unfussy production, starkly lit by Stuart Jenkins, maintains an intense focus on Buggy and a performance that quickly draws us in, immersing us in his quest to make sense of the past and feel less alone. In that regard, there is something unbearably moving about Buggy’s tight embrace of his reel-to-reel tape machine in the final sequence.
Nine years ago, Hill paired Krapp with another haunting Beckett short, Footfalls. The curtain raiser this time around is the taut and witty Go On, a brand new commission from the playwright Linda McLean. The piece depicts a woman, played by Maureen Beattie, interacting with and apparently drilling an AI duplicate to pick up the baton of her life.
Hill’s staging is once again minimal, with Beattie performing opposite a screen version of her alter ego. These interactions, while startlingly precise and funny, are also nuanced: only the slightest flickers of doubt or the occasional awkward physical gesture give away whether “Jane” or “Jayne” is the original, and which one the avatar. McLean’s script is absolutely in the spirit of Beckett, presenting seemingly banal episodes that, through repetition, come to reveal what the playwright called “the dark I have always struggled to keep under.”
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