An ancient couple, Poppet and his wife Semiramis, share an island tower surrounded by water. They pass their days in metaphysical reminiscence, until the arrival of a series of unseen guests who come to hear Poppet’s message to the world delivered by an Orator on his behalf.
Eugene Ionesco’s play, about the impossibility of communicating anything meaningful, is a cross between Beckettian bleakness and Marx Brothers frenzy. As each non-existent guest arrives, fulsomely welcomed by name and rank, more and more chairs are put out until the space is entirely filled with furniture.
Nicholas Woodeson as the Old Man effortlessly commands the stage, but is too self-aware to be entirely convincing as the naive if pompous “master of the mop and bucket”. The revelation is Susan Brown, ten years ago a definitive Nurse to Juliet for the RSC, now bringing her randy sexual warmth to bear on the role of Semiramis, grinding her loins into the lap of an absent Lothario, a performance that confirms her place as comic heiress to the shoes of the late Beryl Reid.
Finally, as the old couple defenestrate to the sound of a watery grave, Michael Byrne makes an uncredited guest appearance as the mute Orator, struggling to convey Poppet’s message without the power to speak.