Monday 19 March 2018

Perfect new look to the Old Couple



BLUE Raincoat's The Chairs at the Factory Space in Sligo is effectively a repeat of Niall Henry's production of the Ionescu classic in 2006: same director and approach, same set, same technical team. But the central characters are re-cast, and it turns the production into something significantly different from the earlier one.

One of the fathers of the absurd school, Ionescu was never minimalist in his approach; but the surrealism which at times seems to come close to insanity allows his plays to be interpreted with different concepts dominating. The only absolute is a sophistication of directorial approach allied to a simplicity of presentation. And Henry manages this in a manner close to perfection with John Carty and Sandra O'Malley as the Old Man and Old Woman.

The couple are married for 75 years; they live on an island in a crumbling house with windows over the water. Before they die, the Old Man wants to deliver his philosophical message to the world. It has been honed over the years, preventing him from "achieving" in worldly terms. But he no longer trusts his ability to hold an audience, and as the old couple talk of their disappointed lives (disappointed in everything save their mutual love), they wait for the arrival of the eminent audience as well as the "Orator" employed to deliver the message.

But as the doors open to admit the "audience" we are unsure of their existence, as the couple storm about arranging dozens of chairs and showing invisible people to seats, asking them to crowd along, worried that the children will be bored. (The Old Man has already confided that they never had a child, and that he was a disappointment to his own mother. The Old Woman has confided that they had a child who abandoned them at an early age, a reversal of normality.)

We are forced to wonder if the house exists or if it is merely the prison of their minds? Or if it exists, is it an asylum? And when the "Emperor" seems to arrive in a blaze of light, we are forced to wonder if the isolation of someone with a valuable message to deliver has been at his decree. And, overwhelmed, trusting in the ability of the Orator to give them immortality, the old people jump from the windows. Except that the Orator (Ciaran McCauley) speaks only gibberish.

Ionescu -- a Romanian writer who watched his country under Ceaucescu's particularly vicious form of communism from the safety of Paris -- manages to say a great deal in The Chairs about freedom, about conscience, and even about the sometimes insidious self-absorption of intellectualism.

And in this new/old production, Niall Henry and his cast (the company has played the piece in Romania to considerable acclaim) give it extraordinarily effective rein.

Sunday Independent

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