Tag Archives: Abbey Wright

The Outsider (L’Étranger) – 5 Stars


The Outsider (L’Étranger)

Print Room at the Coronet

Reviewed – 18th September 2018


“A trust in Camus runs through the piece, but Okri is also unafraid to interrogate him”


We are going to die, all of us, no matter who we are, no matter what we try. This is true. In the knowledge that our fates our sealed, and given the constant humiliation of living, the only question is why carry on at all, let alone struggle? This is the central problem of absurdism, the strain of existentialism developed by Albert Camus; the conclusion of Meursault – the disconnected protagonist of his most celebrated novel – is that there is no reason. And yet he carries on existing. Roaring with the urgency of the original, Ben Okri’s adaptation of L’Étranger for stage demands that once more we face its shattering questions.

His mother dies, but Meursault cannot recall when, let alone how old she was. He is uninterested in seeing her body, smokes and drinks coffee in the presence of her coffin, and falls asleep at her funeral. For him these facts are as irrelevant as whether or not he even loved her (though, he supposes, he probably did). There is no spite in his heart, only indifference, and incomprehension at the values of others. Though he is casually happy in the arms of his girlfriend (who, he supposes, he doesn’t really love), or watching films, or swimming in the warm seas off the Algerian coast, his inability to engage in society’s fictions condemns him. It condemns him when he doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, when he shows no concern at his neighbour beating a woman, when he displays no interest in career or marriage, and ultimately when he kills a man.

To translate such an austere, interior novel to theatre requires a unique intuition into its ideas, and Okri displays nothing less. As a starting point, he samples directly from the original text, allowing Meursault’s monologues to cut right through each scene. Not only do Camus’ words serve as an anchor to the piece, but the manner in which they are used immediately isolates Meursault. The world is made to appear as trivial to us as it does to him, often to the point of hilarity. Okri generates a dream-like environment, beyond which we too would only see him as the outsider.

A trust in Camus runs through the piece, but Okri is also unafraid to interrogate him. On the subject of the murdered man, a nameless Arab (referred to exclusively as “the Arab” in the novel), Okri seems uneasy with Meursault’s -and possibly Camus’- disposal of him as a tool to reaffirm the former’s humanity. In a political climate replete with anti-Islamic sentiment (and given Algeria’s own fractious past), Okri has explicitly expressed the desire to give the murdered man agency. Rather than significantly alter the narrative, however, the man returns as a ghost at Meursault’s trial. In this way Okri extends to him Camus’ universal philosophy rather than – as Meursault later says about himself – excluding him from the proceedings. It is not a rebuttal of Camus but a dialogue, and one that serves to strengthen the piece’s resolve rather than diminish it.

Led by Sam Frenchum’s Meursault, in two hours not a single beat is missed by the cast. Every actor’s performance is a keystone in Camus and Okri’s towering theses. In such an essentially collaborative effort, singling out performances may be a hollow gesture. Nonetheless, it is the furious dialogues of David Carlyle, Tessa Bell-Briggs, and John Barrow in the second act’s courtroom scene that distils the strange logic surrounding Meursault (in spite of his guilt) into a final, terrifying conclusion. Meanwhile Frenchum manages, impressively, to capture both Meursault’s detachment and the strange empathy he evokes; the enormity and the comedy of absurdism both haunt his withdrawn expression. The pace of each scene is erratic -some quick and matter of fact, others lingering past the point of meaning – but Meursault’s calm is constant. The spacious, sparse set, often only lit by a single beam of light seems to reflect his mood and though the piece is full of action, his stillness overwhelms.

As brutal as the core notion of absurdism appears, and as nihilistic – perhaps even as immoral – as Meursault may seem to be, Camus’ final argument is one of breathtaking optimism. The very idea skewers the trivialities of modern existence, summed up by Meursault’s refusal to engage meaningfully with them. This does not mean that the trivialities have no consequences, but only from a position beyond them can a person ask the question, is life worth living? In both L’Étranger and his classic essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus concludes that, although our fate may be determined, perhaps even because of it, we are uniquely free to build our own meaning of life. Perhaps then, for the first time, we can really live.

Okri’s adaptation is both a questioning and an answering of this argument, and by returning to it now, he reaffirms my suspicion that in such obviously absurd times, the inherent absurdity of choosing to live becomes all the more important.

Reviewed by Harry True

Photography by Tristram Kenton


The Outsider (L’Étranger)

Print Room at the Coronet until 13th October


Based on the work of Albert Camus
Sisyphus Distressing | ★★★★ | Blue Elephant Theatre | March 2018


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Why is the Sky Blue? – 5 Stars


Why is the Sky Blue?

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 1st May 2018


“rightfully disturbing show but it is also artistically impressive and highly entertaining”


Drawn from the voices of 10,000 children and young people, a group of actors, representing a diversity of age, race and sexuality, portray the powerful impact pornography is having on a vulnerable society. For ‘Why is the Sky Blue?’, director Abbey Wright extracted the essence of interviews she had conducted in schools and theatres all over the country in which she recorded discussions on this sensitive subject and, more generally, on love and connection. With the dramaturgical collaboration of Shireen Mula, she has transformed their words into a theatrical statement on the need to repair the damage done by the accessibility of pornography to this age group. The show is aimed at adults to demonstrate the need to talk and listen to children, but Barnardos and Tackroom Theatre have also joined together on an educational project offering support.

After an ice-breaking opening by one of the youngest members, we meet the rest of this talented troupe whose ages range from 6 to 22, all strikingly at ease on stage. With energy and flair, the testimony of thousands is presented, building a picture of a situation they are part of. They interact with the audience in humorous question and answer sequences and tell stories of real experiences. There are excellent performances of Matt Regan’s pastiches, expertly composed in true musical theatre style. The messages of the pensive ‘question’ song, the melancholy ballad, the upbeat numbers and the grand finale are driven home by the poignant lyrics. On several occasions the mood changes and we listen to their face to face re-enactments of eye opening conversations.

Slick choreography (Josie Daxter), as we pass through the various sections of the show, creates engaging pace and fluidity. Elliot Grigg’s lighting is in perfect harmony with the different elements, notably in the contrasting musical moments. The array of chairs used for the set, designed by James Turner, make for versatile group combinations while keeping the whole cast together – a reminder of the compass of fragile ages touched by this issue. Cleverly, the familiar sight of the young wearing headphones is incorporated to include everyone, but specifically to protect the younger children from being exposed to “inappropriate” material.

The disconnection pornography produces means that it remains a clandestine, unspoken area, individually absorbed, used and hidden. Whether it is revelation for the pre-internet generation or incredulity for those who trust parental blocks, it is painful to be confronted by this aspect of modern life. Although, or perhaps because, the tone tends towards the lighthearted, even though the script is often moving or explicit, one comes away bewildered by the blow of reality; the importance of being made aware sinks in more slowly. ‘Why is the Sky Blue?’ is a rightfully disturbing show but it is also artistically impressive and highly entertaining.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Marc Brenner


Why is the Sky Blue?

Southwark Playhouse until 19th May



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