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Michael Colgan and Barry McGovern - Krapp's Last Tape

Michael Colgan and Barry McGovern sit at either end of the sofa like book-ends. Domiciled in the airy office usually occupied by Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan on the top floor of the Hub, director and producer Colgan and actor McGovern talk away at length as any pair of sixty-something old friends might do.

They're preparing their EIF production of Krapp's Last Tape, Samuel Beckett's 1958 solo work in which an old man rewinds on his life's lost loves by way of a series of ancient reel to reel tapes. The production is a collaboration between EIF and Clare Street, a new company founded by Colgan and McGovern to do Beckett's work, and named after the Dublin address of Beckett's father. The pair set up the company following Colgan's departure from the Gate, the Dublin theatre he ran for thirty-three years. Age, however, does not appear to have withered either man.

“We've been talking about doing this for years,” says Colgan. “We were going to call it Two Pensioners Doing Beckett, because that's what it is. In the play, Krapp is 69, so Barry's a bit young for it....”

“...I'm 69 in November,” McGovern interjects.

Colgan and McGovern's conversation frequently overlaps in this way, with Colgan's more garrulous nature sometimes getting the better of McGovern's reserved tones. The banter is never fractious, however, with all interjections alive with shared experience and anecdotes. This moves from McGovern's discovery of Beckett aged twelve by way of a TV production of Waiting For Godot, to the two men meeting as students in Dublin forty seven years ago when they were leading lights of rival university drama groups. Colgan watched McGovern play Clov in a production of Beckett's play, Endgame, and the pair bonded by going to see legendary Irish actor Jack MacGowran perform his one man Beckett compendium, Beginning to End, together.

Over the last half century, the pair have collaborated frequently, often at the Gate. When Colgan took over in 1983, McGovern was the first person he called. That resulted in I'll Go On, a solo adaptation of Beckett's trilogy of novels, Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable, which was revived at EIF in 2013. A year earlier, McGovern brought the Gate production of Watt to EIF. In 1991, Colgan staged all nineteen of Beckett's dramatic works, later taking them to New York and London. Colgan also produced the mammoth Beckett on Film project, which immortalised all of the plays for the screen.

For two men who have devoted much of their respective professional lives to staging or performing the plays of Samuel Beckett, often working in tandem, it's as symbolic an image of Beckettian co-dependence as you're likely to witness.

“We love Beckett,” says Colgan. “The truth is, it's more than just me directing or producing Barry. When I put together the first Beckett Festival in 1991, I always had a cohort, and that was him. He's always been with me in terms of advice to put those plays together, and then he'd play a major part in Godot, or whatever.”

McGovern returns the compliment.

“Without Michael at the Gate, I wouldn't have done what I've done,” he says, “but I wouldn't say we were mutually dependent on one another. He could've done it with someone else, maybe just as well, maybe not as well, maybe better, who knows? I could've done it with somebody else, but certainly not as well as I'd done it with Michael.”

This isn't the first time McGovern has played Krapp, having first tackled the play in 1996.

“That was then and this is now,” he says. “As you get older, you see things differently a second time. You're different, the production's different. Everything's different.”

Colgan expands on this with a theory.

“When Sam wrote this play in 1958, a 69 year old was a very old person ,” he says. “I'd like to think that now, being 66 myself, that it's not a very old person. So things have changed. It's the old phrase, sixty is the new fifty or fifty is the new forty or whatever.”

As McGovern points out, “Beckett wrote the play when he was 52, so he was younger than we are now, but it's about this gut-wrenching emotional realisation when Krapp realises he's messed up his life after renouncing love for work.”

Colgan illustrates this with a memory of his own.

“I had a girlfriend,” he says, “and when we broke up, she said, you're going to end up like Krapp, with books in your den, regretting what you've lost. It was a very powerful thing to say, but it had an impact, and it gave me some kind of identity with him. I've known this play since I first read it in 1969. I've produced it, I've directed it twice, and now I'm working on it a fourth time, and I honestly couldn't cut a word. If you asked me to cut a line, it would be like you asking me to put one of my children up for adoption. I wouldn't be able to choose.

“The play is an absolute masterpiece, and it is so beautiful and so poignant and so heart-wrenchingly sad, and let's hope Barry and I can do it justice. We're two guys, two pensioners, trying to do justice to this stuff. We're less like producers, and more like missionaries. We still have work to do.”

Krapp's Last Tape, Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh, August 4-27, 8-8.55pm.
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 4th 2017

ends

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