The Outsider (L’Étranger) at the Print Room at the Coronet
Ben Okri’s stage adaptation The Outsider is smoke-choked and sparse. Devoid of all but a few props, it mirrors the unsentimental inner landscape of its protagonist, Meursault. Through narrator-led storytelling and a large, versatile cast, the production lays out its tale with pensiveness and a sprinkling of the absurd.
Albert Camus’s enduring novel (L’Étranger in its original language) charts the actions of a French man living in Algeria who shoots and kills a man referred to only as “the Arab”. During trial, the prosecution is far more perturbed by the fact that Meursault didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral than by the murder he committed. So unravels the fate of the anomaly who doesn’t fit into society’s idea of humanity, who is pragmatic rather than emotional. Okri has distilled the book into a fairly tight conversation on themes of habit and morality. The piece highlights how easily and consistently humans get used to things, no matter how unbearable they seem at first.
Abbey Wright’s direction is bold. In the first half, Meursault sits, fries and eats an egg in total silence. Later, sex-deprived in prison, he reaches into his trousers to masturbate. These moments showcase a mind which reacts to simple stimuli and wastes no time on abstract considerations. Death is simply an inescapable certainty, God a waste of time.
The Print Room gets its money’s worth from its smoke machine in this show. Whole scenes are half-obscured by thick fog which slowly clears. In the mother’s funeral scene, two trails of cigarette smoke intertwine and join the mass. During a court scene, giant ceiling fans cast imposing revolving shadows onto the floor. The stark set is alienating and sucked of warmth, which befits its less-than-empathic narrator.
Sam Frenchum is unassuming, mild and self-contained as Meursault. Alex Blake and Tessa Bell-Briggs (in various roles) add humour and affability.
There’s a special extra touch. In a separate room which audience members can visit before the show or during the interval, a six-minute video plays, in which “the Arab” gets his say. Okri has created a monologue which gives a glimpse into the fated character’s side of things and elevates him above the nameless threat/victim he embodies in the book and play. It seems fair that we should hear from him, after all.
It may seem a common gripe but it applies here: the two-hour 45-minute running time seems unnecessary. It must be difficult to shave down so rich a text as Camus’s L’Étranger, but to get across his themes with a little more brevity would be a cherished gift to audience bums.
Photo: Tristram Kenton
The Outsider (L’Étranger) is at the Print Room from 14th September until 20th October 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Listen to writer Ben Okri speak about The Outsider here: