Extant's production of Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs, which concluded its run at The Albany in Deptford this week, casts blind actors in the lead roles of old man and old woman. In doing so it gives the opportunity to think more about the play's themes of isolation, alienation and invisibility and makes this absurdist piece fascinating to watch and listen to.
The Chairs is about an elderly couple who welcome a series of invisible guests to their isolated house in what seems like a post-apocalyptic time. They are waiting for the arrival of an important orator and while they wait (and put out chairs for the increasing number of invisible guests) they reveal fragments of their lives. When the orator finally does arrive the couple decide to take drastic action knowing that their life couldn't get any better.
The post apocalyptic world might be the result of global warming or rising sea levels that have changed the world, but we are not told and nor does it matter. Their home actually looks like the bits remaining of Battersea Power Station with its fantastic set design by Andrea Carr. In the space of the Albany, which feels like you are inside of a spaceship, you could be forgiven for thinking you were on some time travelling voyage that has just stopped at Deptford for the evening.
Heather Gilmore and John Wilson Goddard as the couple hold your attention with their fine characterisations of an old couple that have been together for an awfully long time, carrying out pointless tasks and engaging in idle banter day in and day out.
Extant is Britain's only professional performing arts company of visually impaired people. Its mission is to promote the arts and culture of the visually impaired community through a programme of research and development and productions such as this. Ionesco's The Chairs becomes even more intriguing when you contemplate the invisible guests, the sound effects and the descriptive nature of this piece.
While it has finished its run for now... Keep an eye out for future shows from this company.
Photo credit: rehearsal photo Terry Braun from production