Birmingham and Touring
The Chairs: Eugene Ionesco, translation Martin Crimp
Extant, at mac, and touring to 29 April
Runs: 1h 35m, no interval
Review, Alexander Ray Edser, mac Birmingham, 13 April.
Packs a punch as powerful as ever
THE CHAIRS is one of the most significant plays from one of the most significant of the group of writers known as the Absurdists. In Extant’s revival, of this rarely seen piece, in an age in which we are used to Beckett and Pinter and others, the play may seem less absurd; and its bleakness more clear.
The play gives us an elderly couple living in what may be a light-house or the like, they have nothing, they appear to remember little, they reminisce of acts of cruelty. But from this pain (we have all suffered they tell us) the old man forges a message that will save the world. Yet he doesn’t have the skills to express it, so engages an Orator.
The couple fill the acting space with chairs for imagined guests, assembling to hear this great message. We say ‘imagined’ because we can’t see them. But in Extant’s production this notion is given an extraordinary twist, for the actors are blind, ‘not seeing’ is their reality.
The pressure on the two actors is unremitting, Heather Gilmore and Tim Gebbels are more than up to the task. Slightly grotesque, slightly comedic, they nevertheless create characters in which we can believe. Working often at great speed, they keep the play buoyant. And if their world is absurd, it is because our world is absurd.
Director Maria Oshodi has orchestrated the challenging text well, and has integrated access for visually imparted people into the play’s aesthetic.
Without overtly spoiling things, it should be noted that Ionesco really twists his playwright-knife as the Orator gives the long awaited speech, given a neat up-dating in this production.
Old Woman: Heather Gilmore
Old Man: Tim Gebbels
The Orator: Alex Donaghy
Director: Maria Oshodi
Assistant Director: Julie Osman
Set and Costume Designer: Andrea Carr
Sound Design and AD Development: Thor McIntyre-Burnie
Composer: Peter Bosher
Lighting Design: Steve Lowe
The Lowry, Salford Quays: Fri 15 and Sat 16 April
Stratford Circus, London: Thur 28 and Fri 29 April