‘ … interspersed with moments of sheer brilliance’
Director Matthew Parker makes brave choices in bringing challenging plays to the stage. Ionesco’s THE LESSON with its satirical and absurdist content, is finely balanced. Parker takes us into a curious and ridiculous world, at once comic and disturbing.
As we enter the space, we see the maid cleaning the table. The pupil arrives, her desire to learn written large on her face, and the maid leaves her to work with the professor. As the lesson progresses the professor, is dismayed to find that his new pupil has learnt everything by rote and has difficulty with abstract thinking, finding it impossible to understand the concept of subtraction. A change in the relationship comes about when the pupil has a toothache. Now, the professor’s lesson becomes more sinister as he exerts his control. The knowing maid returns, with a warning to the professor, which affirms that something dreadful is about to happen.
First produced in Paris in 1951, the themes concern themselves with the ideology of fascism and its appalling outcomes. More current worries of knife crime and #metoo patriarchal domination can easily be read into the play. Whether this dilutes the worth of the piece is for audiences to decide.
The cast is exemplary. Sheetal Kapoor as the pupil gives her emotions a hyper reality to very near lampooning the role. It works well in counterpoint to Roger Alborough who is every inch the learned professor. He looks the part which makes his slow rise to a cold savagery even more powerful, it is barely noticeable until it is too late. It is left to Joan Potter to take the vital role of the maid, to be the observer to the atrocities.
The play is interspersed with moments of sheer brilliance. The audience sits inside the set with calculations, words and objects scrawled across all four walls. With the bright lights of a dentist’s room, some of these objects are ‘taken off’ the walls, invisible in the hands of the professor but no less deadly. The soundscape is similarly sinister, particularly the shrill scraping and scribble noise which is drawn in the air several times, a highly original special effect.
Photography credit: LH Photography.
Writer Eugene Ionesco
Translation Donald Watson
Director Matthew Parker
The Hope Theatre
25 Sept - 13 Oct 7.45pm
Reviewer Heather Jeffery is founder and Editor of London Pub Theatres Magazine www.londonpubtheatre.com @pubtheatres1 (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Formerly playwright and Artistic Director of Changing Spaces Theatre. Her plays have been performed at Drayton Arms Theatre (Kensington), Old Red Lion Theatre (Islington), VAULT festival (Waterloo), St Paul’s Church (Covent Garden), Cockpit Theatre (Marylebone) and Midlands Arts Centre