by Albert Camus translated by Stuart Gilbert.
King’s Head Theatre 115 Upper Street N1 1QN To 2 February 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.15pm Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0160.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 January.
Gothic exaggeration overlays much of Camus’ play.
Death surrounds life in Albert Camus’ Le Malentendu. Murder, for money, is talked about and eventually committed. By which time we are aware how many deeper mistakes the characters are making – they would be miscalculations if these people had possessed the information with which to calculate. Jan would have told the women in whose inn he lodges that he’s their long-lost brother and son. Martha and her mother would not have added him to the list of rich victims whose wealth they accumulate until they can escape their land-locked Central European home for that symbol of freedom, the sea.
Instead, murder leads to suicide. The author would find an early death 16 years later, at only 47, when he broke his lifetime’s habit of travelling by train, accepting a lift back to Paris from his publisher. The car crashed into a tree, killing Camus, the return half of his rail-ticket famously being found in his pocket. In its irony, it might have been another act in hisMalentendu.
It’s not a great play but holds interest through Camus’ clear-sighted yet humane mind. What it isn’t is a French Arsenic and Old Lace, or a Gothic melodrama, which is where most of the acting here belongs. For that’s too much what this King’s Head revival, apparently successful last autumn with a partially different cast, makes it. This gives rise to questions that ought to be irrelevant: did all rich travellers carry their wealth about their persons? Would they stay in a place such as this, with damp-stained, peeling walls and abrupt-mannered proprietors.
The place supposedly offers “a clean, brightly lit room. Everything is very spick and span,” according to Stuart Gilbert’s 1948 translation, its dialogue now sounding stilted. Of his room Camus has Jan say, “It’s spotlessly clean…Unless I’m much mistaken, you had it done up not very long ago.” Directors ignore stage directions almost instinctively, but they should have something appropriate instead.
Only Leonard Fenton’s sullen old servant catches the mood as he finally breaks his silence, answering a call for assistance with a roared “No!” expressing futility with Beckett-like force.
Martha: Jamie Birkett.
Mother: Paddy Navin.
Jan: David Lomax.
Maria: Kemi-Bo Jacobs.
Manservant: Leonard Fenton.
Director: Stephen Whitson.
Designer: Jenny Gamble.
Lighting: Phil Spencer Hunter.
Sound: Tim Adnitt.
Costume: Ilona Russell.
Associate director: Hamish MacDougall.