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The Chair Plays<
Have I None & The Under Room

Sometimes I feel like the footprint in the land that time forgot. — Jack in The Under Room
The Chair Plays
(Photo: Mark Brenner)
The first two plays of the trilogy of Edward Bond’s The Chair Plays are presented in the Studio space at the Lyric Hammersmith. Both depict a dystopian society in 2077.

The first Have I None directed by Sean Holmes sees people deprived of their memories, their past, their photographs and their family connections. There are terrible tales of self destruction and self mutilation, outbreaks of despair resulting in mass suicide. A woman, Sara (Naomi Frederick) sits at a table and hears knocking at the door but there is no one there. A man Jams (Aidan Kelly) comes in dressed in a black security type uniform and tells her about his day when they apprehended a woman carrying a picture and switches to banging the table, in another act of unwarranted violence. There is no conversation between them that isn’t aggressive or frightening. They argue and verbally snipe at each other.

Grit (Timothy O’Hara) knocks at the door and is met by Jams. Grit claims to be Sara’s brother and to have come from an area up north where people are throwing themselves into the rivers and tells of the loss of his wife. A photograph is all that Grit has to remind him that he had a sister and his portrayal is the most human of the three but Sara and Jams have lost the ability to relate to others, instead they argue about the ownership of two chairs and a table. Jams says “Oh God I pity anyone who brings a wound in this house. It'd never heal. You’d open it every night.” Their quarrelling is circular and relentless.

This bleak scenario is very powerful with the language at times poetic or stark. In a dreamlike sequence Sara remembers a childhood scene with her brother and tells us this while she is dressed in a cloak of blue with spoons suspended from the fabric but as he sleeps, she turns the cloak inside out where the black fabric is covered in bones. It seems as if she makes a self sacrifice to allow her brother to live but life has become not worth living when all that exists between people is brutality. Timothy O’Hara gives us a performance of sweetness and kindness as Grit touchingly clutches his backpack to him and never taking off his raincoat and hat.

The Under Room sees Joan (Tanya Moodie) sheltering a dummy voiced by an actor (Felix Scott) while Jack (Nicholas Gleaves) may be there to help him escape obtaining forged papers or may be playing a double game. Joan seems to want to help but even this soft and caring woman tips over into violence when there is no reaction from her dummy visitor. This tense psychological game sees a descent into madness and murder. The Under Room is directed by Bond himself. The set has a staircase that Joan hypnotically trudges up and down, as she tries to find a way out for her visitor with Jack’s excessive monetary demands made in exchange for help.

Edward Bond’s plays expect the audience to work, to think, to reflect. There are no easy answers, no neat solutions, maybe why his plays are more celebrated in Europe than the UK although he is the inspiration for modern play writing at home. You will not understand everything or anything. Is his point that inside we all have a savage, which given enough pressure, will escape? Or is it the beacon of acts of kindness shining among so much that is brutal? A review of these plays seems superficial to just comment on the excellent acting which must be as challenging as the viewing as we all search for answers.

Have I None
Written by Edward Bond
Directed by Sean Holmes
With: Naomi Frederick, Aidan Kelly and Timothy O’Hara

The Under Room
Written and directed by Edward Bond
With: Tanya Moodie, Felix Scott, Nicholas Gleaves

Designed by Paul Wills
Lighting: David Plater
Sound: Nick Manning
Choreography: Leon Baugh
Running time: Have I None and The Under Room Two hours 50 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0871 22 117 29
Booking to 5th May 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd April 2012 performance at the Lyric Theatre Studio, King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith) <
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