First staged in 1951, Ionesco’s The Lesson remains a fresh deconstruction of the disparity between language and reality. A leader of the Absurdist movement, Ionesco described how it is ‘necessary to break u our language so that it may become possible to put it together again and to establish contact with the absolute’. Director Audrey Guo’s production generally maintains the pace and intensity required to capture Ionesco’s abstraction of language throughout The Lesson. A young and eager Pupil (Kelly Blaze) is hoping to study towards her Total Doctorate. She arrives in the house of the frantic and unpredictable Professor (Toby Oswald) and as the nonsensical lesson develops, chaos ensues. In the early stages of the play, the Professor instructs the most crucial lesson of all: ‘in this world you can never be sure of anything’ and this sentence echoes off the walls throughout the one- hour of the production.
Pace and intensity are key to the rhythm of this one-act play. Toby Oswald delivers a strong performance as the Professor, highlighting the ways in which fixtures of authority deploy language over their social subordinates. The portrayal of the pupil is slightly disappointing as it relies too heavily on a stereotype of a sweet and naive young schoolgirl. I think this portrayal is perhaps a little too obvious and engenders the relationship between the two as slightly clumsy. The production’s most intriguing directorial feature is the way in which the Professor frequently asks an off-stage voice to provide him with the next line in his increasingly antagonised rants. He pauses mid-sentence, demands ‘Line!’ before being provided with the next line of his speech. He repeats the line given to him which is an effective technique in addressing Ionesco’s dissection of linguistics.
Frances Chen’s stage design works well; scores of brightly coloured test tubes hang from the ceiling above a minimal set. The simplicity works well and focuses audience attention towards the constant barrage of information fired towards the Pupil. Whilst a more complex portrayal of the Pupil would have been welcomed, this is an enjoyable hour of theatre. Guo’s production is dynamic, fizzes with chaos and keeps us on our toes.