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Gerard Murphy - Krapp's Last Tape

Gerard Murphy is looking back. As the Irish actor returns to the 
Citizens Theatre in Glasgow for the first time in fourteen years to 
appear in Samuel Beckett's solo play, Krapp's Last Tape, it's an all 
too appropriate thing to be doing. Krapp, after all focuses on an old 
man rewinding his past via reels of tapes on which he's charted his 
hopes, ambitions and subsequent disappointments ever since he was a 
young man. Not that Murphy had  much in the way of failure during his 
time at the Citz, which began an intense three years in 1974, and 
continued intermittently until 1998, towards the end of what is now 
regarded as the theatre's golden era under the three-way artistic 
directorship of Giles Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and Philip 

With Krapp forming part of a double bill with another Beckett 
miniature, Footfalls, Murphy returns to the Citz at the end of incoming 
director Dominic Hill's first season, which has tempted other prodigals 
such as David Hayman and Cal MacAnninch back to the Gorbals. As he sits 
alone in the foyer of a building he virtually lived in at the start of 
his career, Murphy is understandably reflective.

“Coming back here, it feels like coming home,” he says, echoing both 
Hayman and MacAnninch's sentiments. “It is home to me in so many ways. 
It's where I started, and it's the most important theatre ever. Watchin 
g King Lear, it was like Dominic had sprinkled magic dust. It was like 
the best of the old times, but with new faces and young people 
alongside the old, in that wonderful mixture that I associate with 
here, and the tears came to my eyes.

“I just thought, how lucky am I to be back here. It's just a wonderful 
feeling to sit in this bar and think, my God, in a time when in England 
theatre is dying, theatre's very much alive here.”

Being alive is at the core of Krapp's Last Tape, which, by Murphy's own 
nervous admission, “ is one helluva things to attempt, and it's 
fantastic to be asked to try. I know it's just a man and a tape, but 
it's such a mix of humour, pain, anguish, loneliness and poetry. This 
man, he's profoundly alone. He's profoundly disillusioned. He's a randy 
old bugger, but he can't get it up anymore, and we hear him thirty 
years before, with all those hopes he had, of a great career and a 
great novel, and this is a weird thing. Because here he is now, and he 
still has constipation, he still hasn't written the great novel, and 
he's still recording these tapes of where he is at any particular time. 
He's a tough old nut, this one, and yet there are strands of undoubted 
beauty in it that are sheer sentiment.”

The last person to perform as Krapp in the Citizens, of course, was one 
of the men who first employed Murphy, Giles Havergal.

“Giles brought something very personal to it,” Murphy acknowledges, 
“but I'm a different kind of man, so I hope I can bring something of my 
own to it.”

Murphy grew up in Newry, County Down, in Northern Ireland, and was 
originally meant to become a musician. Although naturally shy, “I could 
see that if I went down that route I'd become more and more 
introverted, and I wanted to find a voice.”

Thinking acting was “a night job” which he could fit around his 
studies, he approached his local theatre, who explained to him it 
wasn't quite like that. Even though Murphy didn't hold what was then a 
compulsory Equity card, he got the job.

“What I didn't know was that they were looking for someone to play a 
mentally defective child, and this angelic-looking creature with long 
blonde hair, which I had then, walked through the door.”

When someone suggested he attended one of the Citz's open auditions, 
Murphy arrived in Scotland equally naïve, but again, was offered a job. 
The first show of what was originally a three-month contract was 
Coriolanus, which, coming in the thick of the Citz's heyday as the 
raciest show in town, was  “a fantastically exciting shock.”

Over the next three years, Murphy played in Brecht, Shakespeare, Wilde 
and de Sade. His Citizens swansong was supposed to be in Woyzeck, after 
which the company contracts should have been up. A tragic motorway 
accident involving a visiting company put paid to that, however, when a 
new play by MacDonald, Chinchilla, was rushed into production to fill 
the dark two weeks. An epic based around legendary impresario Diaghilev 
in which Murphy played the title role, Chinchilla was an epic if 
unlikely hit.

“It was just another play as far as I was concerned, and I had no idea 
how it might affect things.”

As a direct result of Chinchilla, Trevor Nunn, then in charge of the 
Royal Shakespeare Company, offered him the lead role in Juno and the 
Paycock opposite Judy Dench. While this didn't stop Murphy returning to 
the Citz to play Macbeth opposite David Hayman's Lady M as well as in a 
revival of Chinchilla, Murphy has retained an ongoing relationship with 
the RSC, where he is now an associate artist.

As well as bread-winning TV turns and cameos in big budget movies such 
as Batman Returns, Murphy gas directed and translated French plays, but 
remains modest about his output. It's the Citizens he really wants to 
talk about, in terms of how his days there have informed his entire 
career. Two things in particular stick out.

One night after a show, rather than go for a drink with the cast, 
Murphy left intending to go straight home. Instead, he decided to pop 
into a pub in the Gorbals he wasn't familiar with. On entering what 
became instantly apparent was something of a spit and sawdust 
rough-house, dressed as he was in some late 1970s punky attire, Murphy 
instantly regretted his decision. When a couple of heavy types 
sauntered over and asked him if he was an actor, he thought his number 
was up. Such anxiety was heightened when they informed him the play he 
was currently in wasn't up to much, or words to that effect. When they 
suggested that the theatre should do more plays by Seneca, however, it 
became clear that they were Citz regulars, and a lively evening 
discussing the merits of Seneca,Wilde and others ensued.

If such an incident highlights just how much theatre can mean to its 
audience, Murphy's second observation is equally as telling.

“It's the only theatre where show-time at 7.30 is the most important 
time of the day. Half the people who work in some other theatres don't 
even know what's on. Here it's different, where the cleaners and 
everyone in the office know what's going on. I was shocked when I left 
here to discover that other theatres weren't like that.”

Now he's back, however, Murphy can revel in such old loyalties. As for 
Krapp, unlike the man he's playing, Murphy is looking forward to it.

“I'm a big Beckett fan,” he says, “but it scares the life out of me, 
trying to get the accuracy of emotion. It's exactly like a piece of 
music, in that it's a sonata for one man and a tape recorder, but it's 
not good enough to just be technically accurate. You have to get the 
emotion right as well.”

Krapp's Last Tape and Footfalls, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, May 
30th-June 9th
The Herald, May 29th 2012



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