Review by Carmel Shortall
In The Lesson, the second of Atelier’s Ionesco double bill at The Etcetera Theatre, the impossibility of communication is further explored as a professor becomes murderously insane under the influence of philology, the study of language and linguistics.
This dark comedy opens with Edith Piaf singing Padam, Padam as a doorbell rings and a maid bustles about preparing a room for the new pupil who is at the door. She calls the professor who is apologetic and polite to his new pupil at first although, before long, he starts to pepper his conversation with innuendos. Maria the maid tries to warn him against the study of arithmetic and particularly of philology and her cryptic utterances cast a further shadow on what is still a good-humoured and comic exchange between master and pupil.
They get off to a good start with the subject of addition but subtraction is more difficult. The pupil does not grasp abstract concepts well and her increasing incomprehension as the master moves into the vexed area of philology goads him into excesses of enraged gibberish. The more he strives for meaning, the more meaningless his words become. Her giggles die away and she starts to complain of a toothache and then of pains all over as the professor produces a knife and the inevitable occurs. Having warned the professor in the first place, it is Maria the maid who clears up for him and who opens the door to the next new pupil as the whole thing begins again.
Deborah Ellis is excellent as the initially perky pupil, displaying real comic flair as she giggles with buoyant good humour at the start then begins to sink under the weight of her confusion when the professor becomes more aggressive and domineering. Corin Stuart portrays the professor with unhinged energy, becoming louder and more manic in his movements until he is prancing around the stage shouting “knife, knifey, knife…” Alison Sandford plays the maid as grimly pragmatic and without compassion. The performances blend seamlessly and the whole is tightly directed again by Vasile Nedelcu.
The Lesson (at 6pm) follows The Chairs (at 4.30) and runs for two more days, 27th and 28th August at The Etcetera Theatre. This is an ideal opportunity to see the two plays together. Atelier Community Theatre have created two excellent productions – both plays complement each other and are linked thematically, highlighting Ionesco’s belief that “communication was impossible”.