Thunder crashes and rain teems down outside the meticulously ordered living quarters of Krapp, an elderly man who exists alongside memories of the past 30 years, painstakingly recorded annually on his birthday. As the storm builds to a deafening crescendo, he sits motionless, white faced, staring defiantly into space.
Robert Wilson’s extraordinary lighting design and soundscape envelope Krapp’s cold, monochrome world, endowing it with a slightly unreal, cinematic gloss. For 25 minutes, he does not speak, but holds the capacity audience riveted with every tiny nuance of expression and gesture. When his voice emerges, it registers as though unused to human company, punctuated by growls, squawks and giggles.
Wilson is here at the height of his genius as performer and creator, launching his iconoclastic vision onto the work of another visionary, with whom he shared a mutual admiration.
Samuel Beckett is the focus of the inaugural Happy Days Festival in Enniskillen, where he spent three years as a boarder at Portora Royal School. The tranquil beauty of the Fermanagh lakelands left an enduring impression and nowhere in his work is there a more evocative sense of place than in Krapp’s tender taped sequence recalling the upper lake and a punt, the sunshine illuminating a beautiful woman with whom he was briefly in love.
Wilson’s stylised, idiosyncratic performance endows the stern elegance of Beckett’s richly layered text with new life and aptly subversive humour. Some purists may judge it a triumph of style over substance. But it is entirely possible that Beckett, never afraid to buck the system, would have loved every brilliant second of it.