Saturday 23 September 2017

Inspired craziness in a Blue Raincoat triumph

ONE of the last public statements from Eugene Ionesco, the great Absurdist, was typically waspish and detached. The Czech president, Vaclav Have,l was visiting Paris in 1990 to great acclaim from the liberal left. Ionesco pointed out that they were the very people who had previously savaged Havel's dissident plays as giving aid and comfort to the right wing in his own country

THEATRE

EMER O'KELLY

ONE of the last public statements from Eugene Ionesco, the great Absurdist, was typically waspish and detached. The Czech president, Vaclav Have,l was visiting Paris in 1990 to great acclaim from the liberal left. Ionesco pointed out that they were the very people who had previously savaged Havel's dissident plays as giving aid and comfort to the right wing in his own country under Communism. For Ionesco, fascist intolerance was as unacceptable from the left as it was from the right.

Blue Raincoat's production of The Chairs in Sligo is a thumpingly good one, keeping the sense of ironic isolation that Ionesco would have wished, while involving the audience in their own speculation as to the realities or otherwise of what they are seeing on stage.

An old couple, married for 75 years, wait in an isolated house on an equally isolated island. The man has never achieved his potential, but is soothed by his wife; and now he is about to give his earth-moving message to an invited audience of dignitaries.

These latter arrive in dribs and drabs, and then in a rush, but we never see them. Instead, the old woman rushes round arranging ever-increasing numbers of chairs while her husband greets the guests, the last of whom is the Emperor.

Insecurity about his abilities has led the old man to hire an orator to deliver his message, and the couple become increasingly despairing and agitated as they wait for him in the milling crowd, finally agreeing across their heads to make the final gesture of suicide from the windows. When the Orator finally speaks, he is a deaf mute close to idiocy who can only scrawl meaningless phrases on the wall.

Niall Henry's direction of the piece in Jamie Vartan's design is terrific, preserving the crazy intensity while leaving open the possibility that we are witnessing real craziness, and that we are inside the senile minds of the old couple rather than in their many-doored refuge (prison?). The timing is excellent, as silences seep uneasily across the stage, and the baleful presence of the Orator is reduced to inane babbling. Mikel Murfi and Ruth Lehane do a splendid job (particularly Murfi) as the couple, and Ciaran McCauley is the Orator.

This one is a real success for Blue Raincoat.

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