The actor for whom Beckett wrote Krapp’s Last Tape
Patrick Magee was one of the leading actors of his generation, working with many twentieth century greats in theatre and film, including Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Stanley Kubrick.
Born in Armagh on March 31, 1924, Magee attended St. Patrick’s College in the town and showed an early passion for acting. As a young man he travelled to London under the guidance of the world renowned theatre director Tyrone Guthrie and soon established himself as a remarkable actor.
After joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964, Magee was quick to build an extensive and wide ranging repertoire, with stage roles in The Birthday Party (1964) and Marat/Sade (1965), for which he would win a prestigious Tony award for an off Broadway production the following year. He also appeared in films such as The Servant (1963) and Zulu (1964).
This would have been remarkable enough, but it was Magee’s unique relationship with playwright Samuel Beckett that would strengthen his reputation and lead to some of the most astonishing performances ever seen in the theatre.
Beckett first heard Magee’s distinctive, cracked voice on the radio and wrote Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) with the actor in mind, initially referring to the work as the Magee Monologue. Magee inhabited the role of Krapp – an ageing misanthrope who listens back to recordings of his former selves – with terrifying intensity. The performance was later recorded for the BBC and remains a central part of Beckett’s oeuvre. The relationship between the two men continued to flourish, with Magee also appearing in the apocalyptic Endgame (1964) as Hamm.
Other greats who Magee collaborated with included Lucio Fulci, Francis Ford Coppola and most notably Stanley Kubrick. In A Clockwork Orange (1971) Magee plays a wheelchair-bound writer whose wife falls victim to Malcolm McDowell’s ultra-violent droogs. His performance is typically breathless and scene-stealing.
Kubrick relished working with Magee and used him again for his adaptation of Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon (1975) where Magee turned in another spellbinding performance as Chevalier de Balibari.
Throughout middle-age, Magee continued to choose a diverse and eclectic range of roles, particularly in his first love, the theatre. Although he battled with alcohol, this never affected his performances, and he remained an actor that people were loyal to and protective of.
Magee suffered a heart attack and died in London on August 14, 1982 at the age of 58, leaving behind a formidable body of work. Armagh District Council was later to install a commemorative plaque in Magee’s honour at the newly established cinema in the city, an event attended by friends and family. It is a testament to the man that despite travelling so far from his roots he was still well remembered and fondly talked about in his home town.