Embers/ Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett

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BBC Radio 3, 16 May 2010
This Beckett double bill began with a 1986 production of Embers, Beckett's 1959 play comprised of two monologues from the central character Henry (Michael Gambon) which sandwich a central dialogue between Henry and Ada (Sinead Cusack). Much critical ink has been spilt in trying to interpret the play's meaning: Beckett himself once expressed annoyance with those who searched for symbols where none existed.
In Stephen Rea's powerful revival the meaning seemed crystal clear: Henry (Michael Gambon) cannot find the words to articulate his situation, even though he tries every single verbal strategy to do so - both monologues and dialogues. All he can hear in the background is the sea plashing against the rocks - a living reminder of his own mortality and the inexorability of time passing. The sound of the sea is not an accurate representation - suggesting, perhaps, that it might be taking place within his mind. Beckett refuses to give us any information either to confirm or deny this. By the end of the play we are in much the same position as Henry himself, together with those critics trying to explain the 'meaning' of Beckett's work; they cannot explain the unexplainable.
Broadcast as a tribute to the late Corin Redgrave, who died in April 2010, Krapp's Last Tape explores the relativity of time: Krapp listens to his recorded voice on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, pressing the pause button occasionally. Apparently he enjoys the thrill of being able to control time; his recorded voice - from the past - can be replayed in the present, and apparently determine his future course of action. Yet Beckett shows that this power is nothing more than an illusion; like Henry in Embers, Krapp cannot determine the 'meaning' of the world around him; nor can he achieve immortality through his tape recorder. The play ends with the tape ending; all we hear is the pat-pat sound of the tape hitting the spool. This not only represents the end of Krapp's recording; it is the end of his entire life. Redgrave's characterization underwent numerous emotional stages - at the beginning of the play he seemed confident, a techno-wizard who had at last discovered the meaning of life. By the end of the play his voice faltered, as he understood the futility of his life. The director of this 2006 production was Polly Thomas.