Brighton Fringe 2015
Black and red, those are the colours of M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A.
Black, and red. The colours of anarchy, the colours of nihilism, the colours of paintings of Hell.
The stage at The Basement is all black – black walls and a black floor, and as we came in there was a sofa in the centre of the space. An IKEA kind of sofa, in deep red fabric. To the right of the sofa there were two large pieces of luggage – one black, one red – and to the left there was a handbag – black.
Greek pop music was playing as a woman came onto the stage. Aliki Chapple must be in her forties, with brown hair pulled into a bun behind and wearing a red dress over black leggings. And black pumps, naturally. As the music faded she opened one of the cases and put a white sheet over the sofa, smoothing it down to regain its original shape.
Next, she took a roll of white tape from one of the bags, and knelt as she taped a rectangular outline around the sides of the stage, enclosing the sofa and the luggage. This may sound dull, but close up in the compact space at The Basement it was gripping, as each small movement seemed magnified, and we tried to analyse its significance. As she worked, the woman looked up at us –
"I’m not really myself – not for a while now"
"I’m depressed, in a way – but not the way most people are depressed"
"No pills and stuff, and doctors – No, I’ve got my own kind of depression"
She continued talking as she put small pieces of tape near the corners of the rectangle, and then took a doormat out of one of the cases and placed it near one corner of the rectangle. What did it all mean? What was going on? She put another piece of tape on the other side of the mat, then peeled back the tape between them and rearranged it to look like a doorway on an architect’s plan.
A sudden realisation – She’s building herself a room, constructing it as an apartment blueprint. There’s a door, and the little bits of tape must be the edges of the room’s windows.
She put a rug in front of the sofa, and then she took a small folding table out of the case and set it up next to the sofa, with water, and a few magazines, and a small statue of an owl. While she was doing all this, she told us that she was waiting for Stavros to come and fuck her.
She’s waiting to be fucked, but she’s not particularly excited – it seems that it’ll be a pretty indifferent fuck. She and Stavros have been doing this for about a year, and she finds it dull and predictable, like eating a bland watermelon – it’s not exciting but it’s refreshing enough. She calls it the ‘It’s better than nothing’ approach.
"I’ve got my own kind of depression" she’d said. Damn right she’s depressed – she seems obsessed with the mediocrity of life, and she talked and talked and talked, free-associating from one topic to the next with no obvious overall direction, as all her inner dissatisfactions came spilling out. "In Greece we wish people Xronia Pola – Many Years. Surely we should wish Good Years". Quality rather than quantity.
She takes a stack of books from her luggage, but only to disparage them – "What is the point of books? Euripides, Sophocles. Great ideas, lofty sentiments – but finally just a lot of useless knowledge". She seems to feel that they offer no help in – "This whole project of being born, and dying, alone"
She’s sick of blandness – of society’s conventional wishes for good health, for happiness, for many children, for friendship and a home full of beautiful things. All the sunny images that we comfort ourselves with, but she knows that eventually she’s going to die.
"My mother’s got cancer. Sixty-five. It’s natural, she’s getting old". At one point she told us – "I’m going to die. All my rebellion is so that people will say – That girl was really radical". She made me think of Dylan Thomas’ plea to his dying father –
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light
She references Cavafy, too. His great poem starts –
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one
full of adventure, full of discovery.
This woman’s response is – "Balls to the journey to Ithaka. I get seasick on ferry boats". Not just seasick, either. She’s nauseated by the cornucopia of drinks, the multitudinous types of coffee, and breads and paninis and snacks and meals – all the consumption that’s on offer when we travel.
She’s fed up, and for fed-upness you take pills. Some to make you happy, to forget the fed-upness. There’s therapy, of course – “How many Euros do I have to give you before I’m happy to be alive?”. Better to stick with pills – and there’s a special pill to give you release from all the pointlessness. To kill you. She takes this, and she dies, there on the rug in front of us.
I’d thought that was the end – but the lighting changed, focussing in on just the centre of the stage, and we saw her ‘on the other side’, as it were.
She wasn’t having a very good time in Heaven – Saint Peter at the gate was horrible, stunted and ugly and very violent to her – “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Have you no shame at all? Suicide – when there are people struggling so hard to survive, when there are people whose children DIE and still they carry on”. Eventually she realised it wasn’t Heaven at all.
She was in Hell.
In Hell, with the twanging bouzouki music of a singer she doesn’t particularly like ringing in her ears – and it’s going to be like that … for eternity.
I’d thought all through the play that the woman’s angst was pretty existential, and this place is of course the Hell of Sartre’s ‘No Exit’. The whole piece can be read as a take on Sartre’s classic – for him it was people who were intolerable, for Lena Kitsopolou, the play’s author, it’s a consumerist society obsessed with quantity over quality. Counting the quantity of belongings, happiness, sex, health, economic growth, without any underlying philosophy of what it’s all FOR. A society without a direction. Kitsopolou is Greek, but the lack of values that she’s talking about affect all Western societies.
Actually, I think that the woman is in Hell throughout the play, right from the beginning. She had built the apartment room for us, created it with tape and furnishings out of a black void, in order to show us the pointlessness and hopelessness of that existence. Maybe she will carry on doing that … for eternity.
A very powerful piece, masterfully acted by Aliki Chapple in a stunning performance. An hour-long monologue of existential angst and revulsion that was gripping from start to finish. The Greek Gods might well have been watching, too – at the finish of the performance I attended, I was musing over the parallels with ‘No Exit’ when we were told that they were moving something through the theatre foyer, so we couldn’t leave for a few minutes.
No Exit, indeed.