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London Theatre Reviews

Distant Voices

By Michael Coveney

It was an intensely moving occasion when the 76 year-old playwright...

Harold Pinter has not been especially associated with the Royal Court, but he was an understudy there when Patrick Magee played the first performance of Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, a 45 minute monologue for old writer with tape-recorder, in 1958 (the year, also, of Pinter's first play, The Birthday Party).

 

So it was an intensely moving occasion when the 76 year-old playwright, now racked with illness, his voice a mixture of bark and croak, appeared in the small upstairs studio for just ten performances.

Beckett is the author Pinter admired most when he started out as a writer, and his performance was therefore part tribute, and part valedictory, which is what the play is anyway: a fading writer revisiting his former voice in a lonely old room. Ian Rickson's impeccable production provided a dimly lit retreat, and Pinter, confined to an electric wheelchair, frowned and grizzled his way to a poetic and defiant conclusion.