Adelaide Fringe 2014
A young chirpy student with an interesting perspective on life comes to the professor’s house for her lessons. He is brilliant, knows obscure facts and theories, but he is socially awkward and the student is unable to comprehend his explanations of simple arithmetic principles and philology. A sudden toothache strikes the student and the professor, unaware of her maladies, continues his lecture in a passionate vein until a sudden twist in the tale changes everything.
The play starts off innocently and as the lesson progresses there are several comic instances where the harmless retorts from the student leave the professor flabbergasted. The maid’s sporadic appearances and ominous warnings also add an element of dark humour. As the play progresses the student suddenly develops a toothache (“the final symptom” the maid declares enigmatically), which the professor studiously ignores as he continues with his lecture on Spanish and neo-Spanish languages. As the pain spreads all over the poor student’s body and the professor becomes more agitated by her lack of understanding or response—except to moan about her various maladies—the play reaches a climax and an unexpected, unpredictable twist that has the audience gasping in shock.
This absurd play written by Eugene Ionesco is delivered in French by Lisa Harper Campbell (the student), Danielle Allen (the maid) and Jean-François Gavanon (the professor). English subtitles are projected on the background for those who don’t understand or only speak a little French; however, they only provide the gist of the conversation and on this particular evening they were inconsistent with the lines delivered on stage as the projector failed to keep up with the play. The actors were word perfect and never missed a beat—they stayed in character throughout and Gavanon and Allen were superb as the nature of their relationship was illuminated in the final scene.
The stage was decorated with a table, two chairs, a sideboard, and blackboard—an apt setting for a seemingly innocent play that is a façade for the complexity and depth of the antagonist. Although the maid only appeared intermittently, her presence on stage had great impact and provoked a reaction from the audience every time. As a French speaker it was difficult to gauge whether the non-French speakers understood the entire story; understandably the nuances and subtle jokes were lost in translation as the English subtitles were brief, but for the most part people reacted appropriately. The body language and facial expressions of the actors helped convey the tone and essence of the dialogue.
Overall it was an enjoyable performance and the unexpected turn in the plot has made this one of the more memorable shows this Fringe.