The Lesson – The Hope Theatre


“Note this carefully, and remember it ‘till the day you die…”

A review by Tanya Howard

The Lesson, written by Eugene Ionesco, was first produced in Paris in 1951 and since then has had various productions and incarnations around the world. It has been commissioned for television and has even been adapted for the stage as a ballet performance, last performed in London at the Royal Ballet in 2005. Director Matthew Parker first discovered the play at university and he loved the way audiences reacted and how they were all so varied in their response to the show and is now being shown at The Hope Theatre.

I can relate to Matthew’s look at the different responses from the audience as I seemed to have a very different reaction to the rest of the room. Whilst most of the room look enthralled with the performance and spent a good portion of the play laughing I spent most of the majority of it confused and trying to work out what exactly was happening and what this was all leading up to.

Whilst confused it was obviously to see that the actors within the play were extremely passionate about the piece and really committed to their characters. Roger Alborough played the part of The Professor, dressed smartly in shirt and trousers complete with braces, with Sheetal Kapoor playing The Pupil, looking especially young in comparison in a white shirt and grey pinafore school uniform. Completing the cast was Joan Potter playing the part of Marie the Maid, who was my favourite with her sudden outbursts implying someone bad was going to happen at the lesson the professor was about to teach at his home.

The scene was already set, and the play had begun as you took your seats with the maid on stage cleaning the table and two chairs. The walls of the room were covered in equations, quotes, scientific references, essentially the walls had become an entire chalkboard filled with lessons.

When the lesson begins the Professor comes across as uncomfortable and quite docile in his teaching style whilst attempting to help the pupil learn the basics of subtractions but as this becomes a slight struggle they move on to the new topic of languages. It was at this point I became very confused as the Professor seemed to ram complicated and senseless theories down the Pupil’s throat whilst she complained repeatedly of a toothache which then spread across her body.

I felt this part of the show was quite drawn out and could have been condensed down as I was completely lost and really didn’t understand the toothache aspect of the play. As the lesson continues the Professor gets agitated and quite aggressive in his teaching, almost like he is possessed, and at another mention of the pupil’s toothache he threatens to extract her teeth, bash in her skull and then grabs her by the wrists twisting them causing her to cry out.

As the play came to its conclusion I was drawn back in to the story, interested as the Professor took a knife from the drawer and has the pupil stare at it whilst repeating the word knife and ordering her to do the same. When she eventually submits he stabs her and after a moment he comes to his senses and realises what has happened and calls the maid in to only have her lecturing him about the same thing happening once again whilst cleaning him up. She warns him that he will soon run out of pupils after this being the fortieth murder, annoyed he tries to strike Marie with the knife, but she overpowers his and slaps him whilst he apologises and shy’s away like a child.

Marie forgives him and proceeds to clean up the scene and help him get rid of the body, before assuring him that no one will question forty coffins they need to buy as it’s a common sight. She puts an armband on and tells him that with that on he has nothing to fear and finishes off cleaning the scene before hearing the doorbell ring announcing the arrival of the next pupil for another lesson.

I guess what confused me the most, aside from the lesson but maybe that’s just my lack of knowledge, was why the maid was happy to stand by the side of a murder and had cleaned up a murder for the Professor only to continue to do so another thirty-nine times. Surely you wouldn’t want to be a part of that and just sit by and know another child is going to be killed, and how has not one parent come looking for their child after sending them for their lesson. Maybe I just need to have my theatre explained and with a conclusion but as I said the rest of the audience seemed to really enjoy themselves and I thought the actors put in a great performance.