Theatre de Complicite, The Chairs

Review in Issue 9-4 | Winter 1997

In this revival of Ionesco’s ‘tragic farce’, Simon McBurney directs Geraldine McEwan and Richard Briers as an aged couple who occupy their time with imaginative mind games and reminisce about life’s lost opportunities.

The Chairs occupies a theatrical landscape somewhere between tragic realism and surreal fantasy, tipping a nod in the direction of Beckett’s Godot en route. A couple live in a decrepit house, where the old man has long worked as janitor. They wile away their dotage imagining all the things he might have been, had he not been ‘master of the mop and bucket’. The action dramatises the couple’s final fantasy, an elaborate scenario in which an enormous crowd of local dignitaries and figures from the past, descend on their home to hear the old man’s farewell message to the world.

McEwan and Briers are magnificent as the geriatric pair, eliciting the perfect blend of pathos and humour from roles which are both physically and linguistically demanding. They conjure the ‘invisible guests’ who crowd the stage with expert skill.

Designers, the Quay brothers, provide some delightful visual tricks. In one beautifully choreographed sequence, McEwan rushes in and out of a multitude of doors, hauling chairs onto the stage for the invisible guests; doors open of their own accord and chairs fly unassisted onto the stage, to a chorus of door bell chimes.

Martin Crimp’s translation handles the poetic word play of Ionesco’s text with aplomb. This is a rare opportunity to see two luminaries of the British stage in such an imaginatively staged and little performed modern European classic.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Nov 1997

This article in the magazine

Issue 9-4
p. 26