After Samuel Beckett heard Patrick Magee read extracts form his novel Molloy and From Abandoned Work on the radio, he wrote a one act play specifically for the Northern Irish actor. Beckett said Magee’s voice “was the one which he heard inside his mind,” and best suited his intentions for this dark and disturbing monologue on creativity, memory and mortality. Originally titled “Magee Monologue”, it soon became Krapp’s Last Tape.
Krapp’s Last Tape focuses on a man reviewing his life through a series of recordings, each made on the eve of his birthday. Krapp is a sixty-nine year-old, would-be writer who still believes he has the potential to create a great work of art, which will change the world. On listening to his past recordings, Krapp becomes aware of the different aspects of his life that have shaped him. Memory defines who he is, while wearing him down, limiting and inhibiting, until finally, impotent and in despair, Krapp recognizes the futility of his ambitions to create something, anything meaningful.
I suppose you could call this “playwright has mid-life crisis”, but still its themes are universal, and hit at the core of personal creativity and ambition.
Magee originally performed the play at the Royal Court Theater in 1958, under the direction of Donald McWhinnie, and this is the BBC 1972 version of that famous production.