7 + 1 is sometimes 9. Especially in the absurdist world of The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco (in a completely accessible translation by Donald Watson), playing at The Hope Theatre until 13 October. The satirisation of education, politics, language and psychology could not be more apposite. First shown in Paris in 1951 this seventy minute illustration of futility still bites. Hard.The evening begins with us walking into a brilliant evocation of a mind in turmoil counterpointed by a cold, white centrepiece echoing a science lab or operating room. A beautifully envisioned and executed set by Designer Rachael Ryan. The Maid (Joan Potter) is steadfastly cleaning the table. An enthusiastic pupil (Sheetal Kapoor) visits The Professor (Roger Alborough) for a lesson. As in The Bald Soprano, Ionesco effectively uses the tools of repetition and circularity to parody the bourgeoisie’s need to repress and destroy the best in human nature. Instinctively we understand this which is why so many of us rebel at school.
We know what is going to happen. Ionesco forces us into the uncomfortable role of complicit voyeur as we laugh (I did, often) at the ridiculous contradictions of reductive reasoning and he often jolts us into a realisation of our inescapable part in this appallingly nonsensical world. Ionesco is hard to pull off. His plays call for an understanding of the grotesque. Ruthlessly require technical excellence, truthful performances and perfect timing. As soon as Roger Alborough, playing The Professor, entered, I knew we were in very safe hands. A completely stunning performance. Alborough just ate up those meaningless monologues that are such a bitch to learn.
His handling of Ionesco’s many idiotic phrases and comic asides, absolutely pitch perfect. Energy pumping out of every pore. What an absolute treat to see acting of that calibre up so close. If he does not win an award for this fantastic portrayal I will eat my socks and the ear of a coat button.
I would have preferred The Pupil to have been played in the upper teens but given the powerhouse she was working with Sheetal Kapoor more than pulled her weight and Joan Potter wrung a laugh out of every line she had. Again Potter, like Alborough, knew how to hold a beat. Played the rhythm of every line to a tee. Excellent.
Matthew Parker is a complete star. He has often been bold in his programming at The Hope and his in-house productions have been enormously successful. In making the choice to produce an Ionesco play he has taken a huge leap of faith. Cannily he has surrounded himself with great Creatives (I must also mention the clever and creepy Sound Design by Simon Arrowsmith).
Fringe Theatre is where all the apathy busting and challenging theatre is happening and I wish Parker and his very talented team every success. In an era where we are numbed by tepid clichés and slogans this was a breath of icy, harsh air. Highly recommended.
Oscar Ciros is a playwright, director and clown.
Playing at The Hope Theatre until 13 October
Photos by LH Photography
The Lesson at The Hope Theatre
THARK by Ben Travers.
Directed by Matthew Parker.
In these grey, dreary days that seem to lack that bygone pre-Christmas sparkle go and get yourself a large, fizzy dollop of fun at the Drayton Arms this festive season. Thark by Ben Travers is a frothy cacophony of a farce and its players play it for all its camp worth. The mis-selling of the country seat Thark, the never ending cases of mistaken identity, and lots of rapid entering and exiting of doors.
Parker seems to have a Tardis spell amongst his magical theatre making tricks. He convinces us the relatively small space of the Drayton Arms Theatre is the expansive (and expensive) habitat of the very rich of the late 1920s. (He is Artistic Director of the North London multi- award winning Hope Theatre). This theatre magic is aided by a spare yet sumptuous design by Granville Saxton and the tip top detailed costume design by Bryony J. Thompson.
Farce is hard to pull off as it has to be immaculately timed, played large but not grotesquely and we the audience have to follow a complex plot. Thark has all these elements. I really appreciated the well disciplined physical performances, punctuated by deliciously timed punchlines, results achieved by a skilled director attuned to the movement and rhythm inherent in this Aldwych oldie.
There are some lovely performances. I particularly enjoyed the excellent portrayal of shop girl Cherry Buck (played with a chic vivacity by Isabella Hayward ) who finally manages to get herself engaged to Lionel Frush (a completely believable idiot played by Alexander Hopwood). I always enjoy skilful clowning and Robin Blell who plays the nephew Ronald Gamble has comic timing in spades.
There are several pleasing surprises in the second half and I left the theatre with a huge smile on my face. I went early in the run and all I would ask is that the pace went up a couple of gears. These are actors new to the profession and they all did their director proud.
Runs until January 6 2018
153 Old Brompton Road, London, Greater London, SW5 0LJ
“STRANGE THE ROAD” – The Hope Theatre, London Feb 2017
From the moment the audience enters this studio space at the Hope & Anchor Pub Theatre they are confronted with a display of violent hierarchy in a frozen tableau of the full cast. 1930s New York Gangster Malloy (Pat Koupland) at the centre, drink in hand aggressively keeping his subordinates Randall (Darren Paul McStay) and Hughie (Rikki Chamberlain) in check.
Separated by this melee stage right we see a waitress (Andromeda Godfrey) who we will later meet as Verda, and stage left we see Frenchie (Joey Ellis) leaning with an air of melancholy surrounding him. He is however the first to spring into life signifying the start of the play. This is his story. Ellis’ character takes relish in explaining his emotional turmoil at every opportunity. The audience in this intimate space clearly hang on his every word as he explodes into exposition. We witness Frenchie falling in love with Verda who works at the club that these gangsters hang out at but he is Malloy’s driver and he has his aggressive sight set Verda, as does Randall. (Godfrey and McStay clearly enjoy playing Verda and Randall with verve and style). Wonderful subplots involving Randall and Hughie keep the audience on their toes as they flip between hilarious childhood buddies and ugly underworld villains.
This play is so well written by writer director Lil Warren. Every character brought to life from their opening frozen state are well rounded and immediately endeared by the audience without cliches attached. The carefully crafted black humour is immensely enjoyable and the staging within the space is sometimes intimate as characters plot secretly upstage then other times the audience are jolted back in their seats as characters are attacked. Lil Warren has achieved something wonderful with a very strong cast in this small space. I hope that one day STRANGE THE ROAD will be given the opportunity to spread its wings in a larger auditorium.
Simon Bowles Production Designer
Portfolio & Showreel: http://www.SimonBowles.com
Member of the Britsh Film Designers Guild
Member of British Academy of Film and Television