Live On Stage Stage

The Chairs

The Chairs
26 February 2022
The Almeida
2.0 out of 5.0 stars

Well.

I’m not sure how to start this review.

I suppose I could talk about how interesting the staging and design of this show was? How it started with a mock-accidental recording from backstage, where we could overhear one of the actors refusing to go on stage because he hates the play so much, but minutes later finds himself pushed onto the stage anyway. That was certainly an entertaining touch. But after that everything devolved into a bit of a, partially intended, mess.

The Chairs is an absurdist play, which generally isn’t something I appreciate, so I was sceptical to begin with. The play revolves around an old couple who seem to live in a post-apocalyptic world and have invited everyone (just everyone!) so the old man could pass on his revelatory message for all the world to hear.
There’s a few slapstick type shenanigans going on with the set and props here and there, and the amount of words the two main actors had to memorise is absolutely astounding. But as far as content goes, I can’t really see what the aim of this play is.

All the “guests” are invisible, so a growing amount of chairs is pushed onto and around the stage as they arrive, as the old woman and old man interact with thin air, sometimes in quite bizarre ways. There is a lot of excited chatter about the important message that needed to be revealed, but this message is of course never heard. The couple often mention the Speaker, who will bring the message to the world.

The Chairs completely descends into chaos as the stage setting falls apart, curtains dropping, props falling from the rafters, chairs tumbling over, and finally one of the stage hands being trapped in the middle of the stage by falling drapery.

While he quietly protests that he must go put on his Speaker costume for the big final reveal, the old couple seemingly improvises by declaring him the Emperor and revelling in his glory, while a lone microphone descends from the ceiling and is being addressed as the Speaker. The couple get more frantic and euphoric, certain their important message will change the world, but never telling anyone what the message is before throwing themselves out of the windows to drown in the sea. Yeah, apparently it’s supposed to be some sort of grand message, but it just seemed a grand mess to me.

The play then ends in the Emperor/Speaker explaining what should have happened if the stage hadn’t fallen apart, while more things go wrong around him, and how the show uses different techniques to symbolise messages, and honestly that whole part just felt very tedious and unnecessary to me.

Absurdist plays surely aren’t meant to be explained, it feels opposite to their purpose to try to make sense of them in that way. However, the whole play didn’t come together to me as I kept waiting for something pivotal to happen, but the show just fell flat. The rhyming and intense word-gymnastics the actors were doing were the only enjoyable part of this mess, for me at least.

I really should stay away from absurdist plays, I haven’t enjoyed a single one so far.

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