REVIEW: ‘The Chairs’ (Ustinov Studio, Bath)

Eugene Ionesco was one of the most important dramatists of the twentieth century leaving behind a legacy of famous absurdist plays including ‘The Bald Soprano’, ‘Rinoceros’ and ‘The Chairs’. In a lighthouse an elderly couple half remember and half forget the past and a lifetime of missed oportunities. Tonight, however, is different. The Old Man has a message to give to the world, his lifetime’s achievement to be presented by a special orator to an invited audience. As the guests arrive and the stage fills with chairs we are taken into a world of magical absurdism and pure theatrical joy.

In many ways ‘The Chairs’ can present a challenge to actors and directors. The absurdist style of the twentieth century can at first seem unfamiliar and this play asks much of it’s two performers who are on stage constantly and face perhaps the greatest mime challenge in theatre history as the ‘guests’ arrive, interact and fill the stage. Ciaran McIntyre and Janet Amsden certainly rise to the challenge in Maria Amberg’s wonderful and vibrant production.  Their characterisation is note perfect and the introduction of the guests so perfect that by the end of the play we can see the stage filled with characters. The set is simple yet effective with the combination of suspended chairs and almost pleasure pier lighting providing a brightness and energy that coupled with the actors performances leaves your head spinning. Martin Crimp’s crisp translation is faithful and fresh from start to end. To be surrounded by an audience overcome with giggles and gasps of amazement and joy is a rare treat and one which makes this a production to treasure. This is magical theatricality at it’s very best.