You may have heard the phrase absurdist and thought it to describe any number of plays or movies you’ve seen that were just a bit weird. Like the writer had perhaps taken a spot of acid and knocked off a couple of pages whilst on a really bad trip. (Say Bob, I like all that whole boy meets girl and fall in love thing, but what’s with pink elephant on page 39?) Well in theatre we tend to get a bit carried away. (That’s right, Bob my friend, take big swig of that absynthe you and him are going to be friends for a while.)
As to be absurd is, by its very nature, not to make any sense. Absurdist theatre then presents non-sense and attempts to make sense of it. Something, well, quite difficult to do.
What’s so weird about these plays then? Well it depends, sometimes the structure of the work is off, sometimes the language, sometimes the characters, sometimes more –
All of this is true for Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs.
The Chairs does follow a story of sort though. An old happily married couple, A Man and A Woman, are going to have guests around. Why are they coming around? Well, to listen to the Orator, naturally. And what does this Orator have to say? Well, the great meaning of life as realised by the Man, who, despite a beautifully comic turn of phrase, feels inadequate to the task of relating it himself.
The guests arrive, only there are no guests merely the chairs brought forth by The Woman upon which they sit. Introductions are made, half conversations are heard – clearly in the minds of the married couple, they are entertaining!
The play picks up as each new guest arrives, the numbers pick up, guests and more guests, the whole room is packed tight – chairs everywhere – and indeed the arrival of the orator is anticipated with great interest.
Where’s the absurdism? Well in the performance. In that gnawing gash in your mind that screams – but there’s no-one there!
The Chairs then is at times is quite brilliant, with the language exuding through the space, filling the emptiness. This pleasant mixture of anecdote, rhyme, derision, repetition, romanticism and non-sequiturs at times leave you in splits of laugher and at others puzzling over what you’ve missed while another audience member erupts on the other side of the room.
It’s not an easy play on an audience then, partly because our dear playwright is as times taking aim right at us, and partly because of the intensity with which it attempts to get its message across.
Indeed, as absurdist theatre goes, it accomplishes its goal; to draw us in and push us out, to make us laugh, and make us think. That it doesn’t fit our preconceived notions about that way theatre and stories are supposed to be told is kind of the point.
Recommended for those who like their comedies to gnaw, for those with a poetic heart, and all students of theatre.
Show watched Thurs 10th June.
Playing until 4th of July 2010 at the Roundhouse theatre, Kelvin Grove.
Presented by La Boite Theatre