7 July 2022
THE LESSON (Southwark Playhouse Theatre) Review
The premise is short and sweet: a Student comes to the home of the Professor for a lesson to help prepare for her exams. The Professor also has a Maid who tries to make sure he doesn’t overexert himself. Hilarity ensues.
I’ve been known to roll an eye at Ionesco’s setup for the plot point where the absurd begins. Here, the Student can add but not subtract. And yet, with this production, it just feels funny and odd, and you don’t catch your self thinking, “well that’s a bit dumb”. As the lesson progresses, the Professor rambles on and on, whilst the Student, excited and exuberant at the start, slowly loses the will to live.
According to the online analysis of the play (and critics’ reviews of this production), as the Professor gets going and starts to berate the Student, she shrinks and wilts. This wasn’t my experience. She just looks sad and lost, almost bored even… At some point the Student gets a tooth ache and keeps interrupting the Professor accordingly. Between the professorial shouting and the ongoing “I have a tooth ache” / “Be quiet!” exchange, I myself started to get a headache. This exchange got very repetitive very quickly. I wonder why Max Lewendel, who directed, didn’t give this a lot more variety…
Jerome Ngonadi’s “Professor” is calm and polite at the start. He gets ruder and crazier as things move along, but I didn’t register him as being abusive or sadistic or anything of the sort (bar the very end of the lesson). He felt like those old school teachers who like to shout at the class and have things be done a certain way. Hazel Caulfield’s “Student” was wonderfully comical and engaging (though her miming with the record player looked awkward and unnecessary). It is her energy that keeps the audience engaged. Julie Stark’s “Maid” is deliciously sinister, far more so than the professor himself. You know something bad is going to happen, but you actually expect it to come from her. A wonderful performance really.
Christopher Hone’s set is unbelievable. There are surprise surfaces hidden everywhere for the Professor to write on. Some things are written, some are projected, and it all just flows together ever so wonderfully. The spoken text is also projected (almost like surtitles), but it’s not just text: the words are arranged in interesting ways, there are pictures and diagrams… My only gripe with it that it looked so interesting, I found myself reading some of this text (even though I didn’t need to), which then distracted me from the performance.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £5.