Belltable Unfringed Festival: Spinal Krapp

It’s not every day you come across a “stand up tragedy” or a monologue so ‘Spinal Krapp’ was an interesting proposition from the get-go. The title told a story before the protagonist even started his with a nod to spoof documentary, ‘Spinal Tap’ and ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ by Samuel Beckett. The latter is a play with one man and one act and according to Beckett himself, “Krapp has nothing to talk to but his dying self and nothing to talk to him but his dead one”. ‘Spinal Krapp’ was destined to be a self-referential stew of intertextuality and a mix of light pop culture and dark drama.

In the play, the protagonist recalled his tough, working class upbringing through a series of anecdotes peppered with references to movies, songs, music, sayings and ‘old’ jokes. These digressions are as much an escape from, as they are a part of, his story. His chaotic childhood was brilliantly recounted. Whether it was a romantic encounter trampled by runners in a 1,500m race to the loss of a longed-for school trip, it was told with the famous Irish ‘Sher, if you can’t take a joke’ black humour. But, the joke and his childhood end abruptly with one devastating act of violence. The most tragic element might be that, as an adult, he sees himself as a similar ‘unarticulated bundle of emotions who can’t function in the real world’ as the stranger who beat him within an inch of his life.

‘Spinal Krapp’ played with the concept of memory, as well as with any preconceived notions. The protagonist told the audience at the outset to consider the relationship between the past and the present and reminded them that they were watching a play and an actor. This self referential vein continued throughout as he recounted details that, on reflection, “might not have happened” and took some of his leads from a cosmic prompter shouting from the wings. At one point, he said he would tell a story about Mary and when the actress walked out into the spotlight and was about to speak, he dismissed her and teased that “it’s not that kind of story”.

The staging was very simple and there was nothing for the script to hide behind. It was nicely paced and well-written. I’d be interested to know if it breaks some record for pop-cultural references. They add an extra level to the play but at the same time, most are self-explanatory enough so that someone (like me) doesn’t lose the run of it if they can’t place them all. Zeb Moore had a difficult task-the only actor with 50 minutes of dialogue and an all-singing, all dancing multitude of characters to play. His timing and delivery were excellent in parts but he seemed to get more hesitant as the play went on. The pauses felt too long and it lost a bit of momentum towards the end. I also thought it was a bit heavy for the lunchtime slot in the programme.

Playwright, Darren Maher, has said that ‘Spinal Krapp’ is an experiment. I think it’s both an interesting and successful one. That said, personally, I find monologues uncomfortable to watch. So much rests on one person’s shoulders. In this case, the character was more child than man, which was part of the play’s purpose, but there was something very vulnerable about it all the same.

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