Pamela Rabe in Footfalls

Pamela Rabe in Footfalls

Footfalls, Eh Joe & Krapp’s Last Tape

Presented by State Theatre Company in association with Adelaide Festival
By Samuel Beckett

Be again, be again.


From the genius of Samuel Beckett comes a very special Adelaide Festival event. Three perfect theatrical gems bound together in one dreamlike experience featuring Paul Blackwell, Peter Carroll and Pamela Rabe—three of Australia’s greatest actors, brilliantly matched to the funny, wistful and acutely observed existential work of Beckett.

Footfalls features May, wrapped in tatters, metronomically pacing back and forth on a strip of bare landing outside her dying mother’s room. Part ghost story, part exploration of the existential bonds between parent and child, Footfalls sees Beckett at his purest, speaking directly to our subconscious.

Eh Joe plumbs the depths of Beckettian regret. An ageing man sits in the secure solitude of his bedroom. But his locked door cannot block out the insistent woman’s voice that enters his mind, forcing him to face up to his past and the lovers he has failed or driven to destruction. Tormented by his inner demons, he is made to relive everything he has tried to forget.

One of Beckett’s greatest works, Krapp’s Last Tape is a haunting look at the many lives we live in the course of a single one. Krapp, an elderly man, is surrounded by darkness in his room—a single light illuminates his only significant possession, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder. It is his birthday and, as is his annual ritual, he records recollections of the year while also cackling over his old tapes. What starts out as the vaudeville of an old man’s memories, however, increasingly becomes a confessional that reveals a life of missed opportunities; and Krapp’s nostalgic laughter turns into heavy silence.

A rare and intimate theatre experience not to be missed.


Footfalls is a play is in four parts, each opening with the sound of a bell. The play is very structured with the timing and pace being critical; ‘The walking should be like a metronome’, Beckett instructed.
May, a woman in her forties, paces back and forth, using only nine steps in total. She is outside her mother’s room. Her mother, who is only ever heard in the play, is ninety years old and in poor health. Part of the mystery of the play is whether the mother is real or a creation of May’s mind.
May speaks to her mother:
M: Mother. [Pause. No louder.] Mother. [Pause]
V: Yes, May.
M: Were you asleep?
V: Deep asleep. [Pause] I heard you in my deep sleep. [Pause] There is no sleep so deep that I would not hear you there. [Pause. M resumes pacing. Four lengths. After first length, synchronous with steps.] One two three four five six seven eight nine wheel one two three four five six seven eight nine wheel.
As May paces she hugs herself, her arms crossed, with the hands clasping her shoulders in front. May’s posture gives the feeling that she is isolated. May is a shadow of her former self, with a ghostly pallor, and wearing tattered nightwear. Her posture May sinks lower during the play. May’s journey has been described by Jonathan Kalb and Billie Whitelaw: “May gets lower and lower and lower until it’s like a little pile of ashes on the floor at the end, and the light comes up and she’s gone.”
In the second part, the mother tells the audience that May begun her obsessive pacing in girlhood. Originally the hall was carpeted, but May asked her mother to have it taken up, saying she needed “to hear the feet, however faint they fall; the motion alone is not enough.”
The third part parallels Part II, this time with May speaking of her mother and her life. She talks as though it were the life of someone else and even refers to a person called “Amy,” which is an anagram of May.
In the final section there is no one on stage. The bell chimes; the lights come up and then fade out. “The final ten seconds with ‘No trace of May’, is a crucial reminder that May was always ‘not there’ or only there as a trace.”

Footfalls is a Grey Gardens-esque story of a middle aged woman (May/Amy, played by Pamela Rabe) whose life is dedicated to caring for her ailing nonagenarian mother (an off-stage voice) and carefully pacing backwards and forwards across the same patch of floor, night after night. The dialogue is often more like a monologue split between two people, with Rabe’s character talking about herself in the first and third person at different times. Rabe is exceptional here – disturbing and fragile and bringing such a controlled madness to the tiny stage that you can’t help but be drawn into this bizarre, claustrophobic relationship.


The Beckett Triptych team: Paul Blackwell, Geordie Brookman, Nescha Jelk, Pamela Rabe, Peter Carroll and Corey McMahon. Photo: Mike Smith
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