Writer: Eugène Ionescu, adapted by Sean Foley
Director: Roxana Silbert
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Amédée has hit writers’ block. For 15 years, he has been working on his play and has now written almost three lines of the opening scene despite being effortlessly eloquent in his dealings with Madeleine, his wife. As he agonises over it, Madeleine does all the chores and works as a switchboard operator from home to keep them – Amédée is often too tired from his creative efforts. And who wouldn’t struggle when there is a dead body in the bedroom: a body that over the 15 years it has been there has continued to grow and age?
They can’t remember just who the body was or how he came to be dead – they discuss various scenarios and nothing concrete comes of it. But ‘He’ has taken over their lives – they live lives of hopeless helplessness: Madeleine is continuously cleaning; they never leave their flat; all social life is a memory. Even a visit from the postman with a letter is greeted with suspicion – the body has grown so metaphorically large that they cannot conceive of any reason for any interaction not relating to it – and so the postman is sent on his way still clutching his missive. Amédée is the ultimate procrastinator – his response to Madeleine’s requests to do something, anything, to get rid of ‘Him’ have repeatedly been met with protestations of exhaustion or a promise to do it tomorrow. But now ‘He’ is threatening to physically outgrow the flat so action must be taken – action that has unexpectedly surreal consequences for them both, as well as the patrons and staff of the nearby House of Tolerance.
Amédée is the first and least well known of Ionescu’s three full-length plays but shares features with the others, all being classed in the post-war Theatre of the Absurd movement in which logic is abandoned. But there is a simple truth at the heart of Amédée that touches us all – we are all guilty of procrastination and turning a blind eye to that which affects us most, forgetting how it came about and unquestioningly accepting the sacrifices we make to maintain that pretence until it is no longer feasible and action must be taken.
And Trevor Fox’s Amédée strikes that chord perfectly. His swings between resignation and eloquence, his overt attempts to ignore that which is so blindingly obvious come out in an acting masterclass. Josie Lawrence’s Madeleine hits the right note as the put-upon yet loyal wife. She conveys her unconditional love and support for Amédée even as the situation becomes intolerable. Roxana Silbert’s direction captures their feeling of loneliness and of being swept up in events bigger than themselves while allowing the natural comic timing of both principals to shine through and make the unbelievable somehow believable. The supporting cast includes eight community members alongside the remaining three professional actors. They all come into their own as Amédée’s actions to get rid of the body move him out of the flat.
Ti Green’s witty set design, with its teetering towers of books and unlikely juxtapositions, supports the feeling of a couple hemmed in, helplessly trapped.
Amédée is absurd in every sense, but like the best comedy has recognisable moments of truth, moments when one recognises oneself in the action, moments that make one sit up and question the basic tenets of one’s existence and the ‘dead bodies’ that litter our pasts and loom large in our presents. Absurd – yes. Funny – yes. Truthful and thought-provoking – also, and most assuredly, yes.
Runs until 11 March 2017 | Image: Ellie Kurttz