The Chairs, Debating Chamber, Falmer House, 21/11/08
Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs opens in a very poignant fashion. The lights come up on an elderly married couple in a many-doored room containing only two chairs: the wife is standing wobbly on one of them trying to light a lantern, whilst her husband is staring thoughtfully out of the window at the water which completely surrounds their house. With delicate piano accompaniment, this emotive set-piece is excellently directed and acted, creating a sense of crippling loneliness.
As the play gets underway, we learn that the elderly man has, after decades of work, perfected a message which has the potential to save the world, and has invited a plethora of different guests to his house to whom the secret will be revealed. There is, however, one catch: the guests are invisible.
This premise helps to create some absurdly funny scenes; the elderly woman stripping down to her underwear, thrusting and moaning in the arms of an invisible stranger just meters away from her oblivious husband probably won the most laughs of the night, and is an image no amount of therapy will ever erase from my mind.
As the guests keep on arriving, and the chairs keep on coming, the only two visible characters on stage hold their own, and do incredibly well to make a room full of empty chairs seem chaotic, noisy and raucous, whilst also performing the at times incredibly strange dialogue in an engaging and convincing way.
By the end of The Chairs, I am still waiting for the play to make sense, but leave feeling like I just witnessed a very well-acted, excellently directed theatrical spectacle.