by Albert Camus translated by Stuart Gilbert.
The Kings Head Theatre 115 Upper Street N1 1QN To 11 November 2012.
Sun-Mon 7.15pm Mat 11 Nov 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 478 0160.
Review: Francis Grin 9 October.
An existentialist delight.
A young woman hysterically wails on stage. Her husband has been pointlessly murdered and she is now completely alone in a strange country. The manservant (who has been silent for most of the play) comes into the room to see her crying. As the woman begs the manservant to help her, he finally opens his mouth and firmly answers “No!” And so, the lights blackout to the end of French writer Albert Camus’ first play Cross Purpose (Le Malentendu), from 1944, which captures the existentialist flavour that would later award him a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Cross Purpose follows the lives of Martha and her mother, who run a hotel and shamelessly kill all those who stay with them for a bit of extra change. When the women find out that their latest kill, Jan, was also Martha’s long lost brother, they are both driven into an emotionless suicide. Jan’s wife returns at the end to be faced with two choices: either accept the pointless cruelty of this world or join the women in their death.
While the plot may be bleak, director Stephen Whitson knows how revive this play – milking it fully for its brilliant dark humour. Most enjoyable is Jamie Birkett’s portrayal of ‘Martha’ – whose comedic timing and stone cold expressions are absolutely delightful to watch. This excellence is further carried by the rest of the cast, who clearly have a firm grasp of Camus’ work.
Both the set and sound design enhance the desolate nature of this hotel, with its dirty linen, dust-drenched furniture and eerie echoes. Still, given the powerful nature of this script, many of these design choices seem to only further layer what is already dark enough in itself.
Regardless, this production is a real thrill to watch. Although Camus may have died in 1960, his work remains highly relevant as it confronts us with some uncomfortable realities about our world.
Martha: Jamie Birkett.
Mother: Christina Thornton.
Jan: David Lomax.
Maria: Melissanthi Mahut.
Manservant: Leonard Fenton.
Director: Stephen Whitson.
Designer: Jenny Gamble.
Lighting/Sound: Phil Hunter.
Costume: Ilona Russell.