The play begins with the sparring mother and daughter, quarrelling about the arrival of their next guest. For the daughter, Martha, she is certain that this lone, rich man will provide her with the means to escape from the desolate valley and live a life in sun on the coast. Her mother, wearied by the monotonous years of her existence, seems quite happy to retire and embrace ‘the eternal rest’. Macabre as this sounds, Martha Jamie Birkett and the mother Paddy Navin inject such wry humour into their delivery that the latent absurdity of their lines is revealed; instead of quarrelling about whether or not to kill a man, it seems as if they might be bickering about whether or not to buy a particular brand of tea.
Despite the long exchanges that Camus favoured and the cyclical nature of the ideas he presents, the play sustains its energy throughout. This is perhaps helped by the stark contrast between the mother and daughter and the long-awaited guest, Jan David Lomax. He is so naively good that his words seem laughable in the face of such obvious malevolent intent; however, he has good reason to bear hope in the face of overwhelming despair, as he is the prodigal son returning home after twenty years of absence.
Not willing to reveal his true identity at first, Jan unwittingly catalyses his own death by riling Martha with his over sentimental, over familiar conversation. Aided, then, by a heavy dose of dramatic irony the audience watches on as the play reaches its absurd conclusion. Through the accomplished performance of Jamie Birkett, the audience seem to embrace the slick erasure of all hope with which the play ends. Darkly comic, this play is worth a watch.
-by Charlotte Pegram