Theatre Review: The Lesson, The Hope Theatre, Islington

The Lesson runs at The Hope Theatre, Islington until October 13

The Lesson runs at The Hope Theatre, Islington until October 13 - Credit: Archant

It might be obvious to point out, but one of the trademark motifs of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ is exaggeration.

Sheetal Kapoor and Roger Alborough perform in The Lesson

Sheetal Kapoor and Roger Alborough perform in The Lesson - Credit: Archant

Characters and circumstance, execution and reaction all must be amplified and ramped up to giddying heights. It’s almost as though archetypes are celebrated in their crudest of formations, bluntly sculpted and etched out. Nuance resides in the preposterous nature of the set-up and the escalation of events.

Eugene Ionescu’s play, The Lesson, is 67 years old and wears its age lightly. The set-up is timeless: a professor (Roger Alborough) greets his pupil (Sheetal Kapoor) for one-on-one tuition.

The pupil is presented as something of an eager-to-please idiot savant - at home with the most complicated multiplication, but seemingly incapable of the most rudimentary understanding of subtraction.

This irks the professor. He becomes increasingly testy. A palpable sense that anger might hit boiling point only increases when attention is turned to matters of philology and a toothache suddenly knocks the pupil’s concentration out of the window. The class should be dismissed. In a way, it is.

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Stylistically, the stage design is impressively laid out for a small, cosy space. Effort has been made to create an ambience of creeping claustrophobia. The audience envelopes the action, yet the walls behind provide a continuation of the stage design with blackboard etchings. A discordant soundtrack offers soundscapes that jar and unnerve with a horror film’s panache. It could be argued, however, that this telegraphs developments a little too obviously.

Throwing up notions of obedience and trust between a pedagogue – or, in fact, anyone in authority – and their subject is a worthy topic of exploration. And yet, somehow, The Lesson remains a slight tale. There is little substance here and while it lacks the lasting punch that it so keenly strives for, it is perhaps unfair to mark Matthew Parker’s production against a 67-year old text that is set in stone. It should be noted that there is no unique or fresh spin here. In relative terms, as a revival, this is merely faithfully constructed and solidly sold.

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