|Chairs Plays Don't Make For A Comfortable Evening|
Revival of Edward Bond trilogy at the Lyric, reviewed by Penny Flood
Edward Bond is one of England’s most prolific playwrights, having written some 50 plays for stage and broadcast. The boy who left a secondary modern school at age 15 with only a basic education evolved to become one of the greats. But his work is rarely performed anymore in Britain, so full marks to The Lyric for staging the UK Premiere of his Chair Trilogy. The first two – ‘Have I None’ and ‘The Under Room’ – opened on 19 th April. The third, ‘The Chair’, opens on the 11 th May.
Both these plays carry on Bond’s bleak view of the world: obsessions with exclusion, alienation and violence combined with a dislike of capitalism and authoritarianism. They’re set in 2077 in a totalitarian state where lives are tightly regimented and controlled. In each, established lives are thrown in to disarray with the arrival of an outsider, who makes them think for themselves. How do you cope when something outside of your control makes you break the rules?
Full credit goes to the cast for their skilful handling of difficult scripts.
In Have I None, the past has been abolished along with memories and the individualism that goes with them. State control extends even to what you can eat, own and the way the furniture – in this case two chairs and a table with a wonky leg – is arranged. It’s a horrible, frightening place where mass suicides are the norm. It starts with a young couple, the paranoid and twitchy Sara (Naomi Frederick) and the loud and aggressive Jams (Aidan Kelly) who are in a very unhappy, violent marriage. They are visited by a gentle stranger, Grit (Timothy O’Hara) who claims to be Sara’s brother. He is exhausted, having walked a long way but he can’t sit down because there isn’t a chair for him. There are funny moments, but not many.
Slickly directed by Sean Holmes, this is the more successful of the two that keeps you guessing right until its very dramatic and surprising end. The Under Room is directed by Bond himself, but doesn’t work so well. It’s about half an hour too long, the action is plodding and the nihilism becomes wearing.
In The Under Room, a likeable, illegal immigrant (Felix Scott) breaks into a house, not to steal anything but to hide in the cellar (which is called the ‘under room’) to detract the guards from catching him. The owner of the house is the lovely, confused and desperate Joan (Tanya Moody). She decides against handing him over to the guards. In trying to find a way of smuggling him out, she calls on the services of the extremely unpleasant human trafficker Jack (Nicholas Gleaves). Things don’t work out as planned.
The chair in this production is centre stage, occupied by a faceless dummy. As the play progresses the plight of the immigrant becomes less important to Joan and Jack than their own problems and they address the dummy, leaving he poor immigrant semi-naked and shivering in the corner. He ceases to be human in their eyes and it soon becomes obvious how it’s going to end. When it did, I just felt pleased it was over.
Have I None and The Under Room runs until 5 th May
April 26, 2012