Dir. Matthew Lenton, Citizens Theatre, 17th -24th Oct 2015
Striptease and Out at Sea, the twin components of the Citizens Theatre’s absurdist double-bill, are not the best-known works of Polish playwright Sławomir Mrożek, but with a production this confident it’s hard to think of a better entry-point to his work or the style in general.
Though firmly rooted in the tradition of Beckett and Stoppard, the pieces nevertheless showcase Mrożek’s individual voice – particularly in Out at Sea, which combines a tense premise with bizarre comedy and savvy social commentary that under Lenton’s direction feel so relevant to austerity-era Britain you wouldn’t think it had been written in communist Poland.
Three men, for reasons not entirely explained, find themselves stranded on a raft adrift in the open ocean. Having eaten their meagre supplies, they once again find themselves hungry and set about answering the only question that’s still important – who gets eaten first? This simple conceit serves as the springboard for a nuanced and intermittently hilarious discussion of class, exploitation, and the limits of democracy.
The first piece, Striptease, is a bit more conventionally absurdist – and no, that’s not an oxymoron. Two businessmen are trapped in a room. Every so often, a disembodied hand will appear and compel one or both of them to remove an item of clothing. In between its appearances, the men speculate or bicker about where they are, why they are being held there, and what is their appropriate course of action given the limited number of options open to them.
Naturally the performance is steeped in metaphor and viewers familiar with the genre may find the ground it covers a little well-trodden – even in 1962, absurd protagonists had been running into trouble with literally faceless authoritarian regimes since Kafka – but it is a strong example of the style, especially with the incredible immediacy the intimate Circle Studio lends it, with just an single row of chairs arranged along the circumference of the room. The two men squeeze in among the onlookers and, with the hand appearing from the door you came in through, you feel just as trapped as they are.
[Neil Weaving – @weavo2k6]