First performed in 1951 – and in permanent repertory at the Theatre de la Huchette in Paris ever since – Eugene Ionesco’s The Lesson is here given a watertight new production by director Matthew Parker.
In Ionesco’s play, a professor’s nonsensical tutelage becomes increasingly horrific as reason and language break down completely.
Parker clearly understands the need for his cast to feel the play’s fast-paced rhythm. Roger Alborough’s erratic Professor has an excellent rapport with Sheetal Kapoor’s Pupil. She’s the picture of enthusiasm as she continually repositions her plait and shouts out the answers. Though she only makes a few appearances, Joan Potter’s pained expressions and her crashing around backstage as the Maid are equally commanding.
Ionesco’s examination of autocracy and his sinister bending of language is effectively brought across by Donald Watson’s translation. Rachael Ryan’s set is creepily clean with its raised, black-on-white grid, central table and algebraic formulae and words in French chalked on the black box’s walls.
The sound design of generic ambient noise sliding into nightmarish echoing is fine but it feels like an opportunity has been missed to do something bolder here. The comedic and physical prowess of the actors more than makes up for it, however, as Parker’s production races towards its conclusion with glee.