Michael Laurence’s remarkable and achingly intimate vision is realised in one of Pleasance’s tiny bunker venues just before midday every day of the Edinburgh Fringe festival. It was my privilege to share in one of these performances; to be invited into the study of Laurence’s modern day incarnation of Beckett’s infamous Krapp.
The production begins with a recording of a phone call of Laurence attempting to convince his agent that his vision has merit. Through this we are introduced to the play’s concept of creating deeply introspective audio diaries on the same day of the year throughout Laurence’s thirties, and for him to reflect on these as he enters his fifth decade. To pay further homage to Beckett, Laurence imagines revisiting these recordings in another production when he reaches 69 – the same age as the eponymous character in Krapp’s Last Tape.
This use of the taped phone call is not the only meta-theatrical device. There is also a strong epistolary element in the production, which neatly explains Laurence’s lack of direct quotations from the original text (he reads us his correspondence with the Beckett estate). However, this is by no means a hindrance and actually strengthens the originality of the piece by forcing Laurence to reference Beckett more obliquely.
When these audio recordings are used, Laurence passes his camera (which is linked up to a screen behind him) across his cluttered desk, focussing on various items of symbolic importance – be these works of literature, amusing ornaments or memento mori.
There is natural poetry to Laurence’s monologues which carry his words along with an almost soporific reassurance. His voice as much as his words are utterly captivating.
The show’s writing is simply staggering. Nothing is trivial and there is no sense of cliché. The audience is not in opposition to the production’s unconventional chronology, and is conversely carried along with the leaps back and forth in time, which track the progression of ideas more fluidly than along conventional sequentially.
However, by no means is this solely a depressing and cerebral examination of the transience of youth and a wasted life; Laurence is keen to inject moments of comedy alongside the gloomier reflections. He goes into a delightful tangent about learning the Northern Irish accent; he relates his attempts to cope with Restless Leg Syndrome, and he reads a “5th grader”’s review of Beckett’s original.
Laurence is a phenomenal talent; his observations on the nature of memory and the expectations of modern masculinity are particularly poignant. His weaknesses and insecurities are unflinchingly laid bare. While Krapp 39 may draw sizable chunks of inspiration from Last Tape, Laurence offers us something truly original and vital for our times.
Image: courtesy of production