Birmingham Rep, Studio
2nd March 2017, matinee
This is the first of Sean Foley’s ‘free adaptations’ of a classic play that’s opening within a month. Later in March, I’m seeing his take on Molière’s The Miser which opens at the Garrick, but first it’s the world premiere of Amédée, based on Eugène Ionesco’s 1954 play.
Frustrated playwright Amédée is in the 16th year of writing his play and it doesn’t sound like he’s got far with it. While he spends his days surrounded by books and failing to write a speech, the only break that his run down wife Madeleine gets from cleaning is when she goes to work. He’s a procrastinator of giant proportions; his mantra is ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ as Madeleine sings out in an Annie-style jibe. But it’s not quite the offbeat domestic play it perhaps first seems. They live in some sort of contemporary Britain-turned-repressive police state. Also, rather more pressing, their lives are dominated by a dead man (possibly a lover, and possibly murdered by one of them) who is growing by the day and causing mushrooms to sprout all over the place. As a 15ft corpse bursts through the bedroom door threatening to fill the living room, a line from Pinter’s No Man’s Land sprang to mind: ‘A metaphor. Things are looking up.’ As they worry about the future of their marriage, the corpse grows and grows and grows. Compared to The Bald Soprano, Amédée doesn’t quite push the Theatre of the Absurd aspects to the former play’s heights. Given what the term ‘freely adapted’ implies, I don’t see why Foley hasn’t pushed the absurdities even further (then again I don’t know the original play) to make the political resonances about chaos taking over reason and logic shine over the more domestic side of the play.
Having said that, I think there’s a lot of clever thinking beneath Amédée. There is sense to be made out of the apparent senselessness. For instance, Madeleine’s zero hour contract job seems plausibly at home in the dystopian setting. And as the first act builds to a rising sense of chaos with phones ringing and lights flashing, Amédée laments the loss of the citizen’s advice bureau (although I can’t help but wonder if the CAB is one of the butts of that joke as well). Furthermore, there is an interesting portrayal of artists in the play. As Amédée goes floating off into the night’s sky claiming how (paraphrasing) he’s a writer and that he has good intentions on his side, one of the pub-goers scoffs ‘Artists!’ Even Madeleine’s calls for her husband to ‘go and write your play’ begin to seem like a diminutive scorn after a while. Despite the play’s military-ran setting, it is perhaps a prescient point that artists are rarely the ones looked up to in moments of political crises. However, it’s a shame that some of the jokes fall flat and, considering it has ‘action-packed farce’ on the publicity material, some of it is underwhelming (which is surprising bearing in mind Foley’s pedigree for comedies), in an otherwise well-measured production.
Ti Green’s design provides us with an eleventh hour coup when the walls, furniture, towers of books, and boxes of Amédée and Madeleine’s apartment disperse so we’re outside a pub, with graffiti on the wall and CCTV overlooking the street. This Orwellian, urban, repressive setting makes the outmoded apartment of hoarded books, kitchen appliances and packages look almost cosy by comparison. Josie Lawrence brings both comic touches (the orgasmic joy that getting rid of the corpse gives her) and pathos to the role of Madeleine, supporting her husband but also craving– as she points out numerous times – for an ordinary life. Trevor Fox suggests a humorous absentmindedness to the titular playwright, easily confusing dreams and reality and wondering whether he’s perhaps in the life of his play. In one moment as he and his wife are lugging the corpse out of the window he pauses to admire how beautiful the square looks from there.
To have two bits of new writing (three including the upcoming One Love) at the Birmingham Rep in such short time is something to applaud. And for all those playwrights who are submitting work for the Papatango Prize this weekend, I imagine that the procrastinating tendencies in Amédée will act as a nudge to remember to do so.
Amédée plays at the Birmingham Rep until 11th March, 2017.
|Josie Lawrence as Madeleine / Trevor Fox as Amédée|
Credit: Ellie Kurttz