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