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An Execution (by Invitation Only) review at Camden People’s Theatre, London – ‘exquisitely crafted silliness’

Shamira Turner, Tom Lyall, Simon Kane and Greg McLaren in An Execution (by Invitation Only) at Camden People's Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Paper walls like sliding Japanese doors, a white floor, a sturdy green door. There’s a single high window though which a bewigged lawyer is peering and an aproned jailer sits on a stool. It’s stylish and strange but, when a third figure stumbles in, the green door swings shut, and it is also very obviously a cell.

A prisoner (Greg McLaren) is due to be executed. His lawyer can’t quite tell him when. He covers the white floor with incomprehensible scrawls. His wife visits, but she doesn’t have much to say to him. Awkward silences bloom on the dialogue like a fungus. So little is said or done in this cell, and yet the effect is both eerie and hysterical.

Though inspired by Vladimir Nabokov’s elusive, mercurial prose, An Execution (by Invitation Only) evokes the absurdist work of Ionesco. Director Gemma Brockis, co-founder of Shunt, has an uncanny eye for the mundanely hilarious, and her understated use of physical comedy is extraordinarily effective.

Zekan Cemal’s set cleverly plays with both claustrophobia and invasion: the featureless paper walls are torn or penetrated, most humorously by a human mouth that forms the centre of a spider, which excites the jailer to no end. The audience is acutely aware of an outside where seemingly meaningful interactions take place, rendering the scenes within nonsensical but indubitably part of a terrifying external logic. The tightly controlled action spirals into the energetically bizarre without ever deviating from its deadpan presentation. It’s baffling but rather brilliant.

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Deadpan, absurdist silliness crafted so exquisitely that it becomes high art