(Kate Kellaway’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/29.)
Ionesco’s Exit the King was first performed in 1962, and the theatre of the absurd cannot boast any more provocatively banal opening line than the complaint about broken down central heating that kicks off the action – or lack of it. A guard sits on the ground, his scarlet uniform covered in dust, slumped against a monumental concrete throne. Roy Sampson is wonderfully funny as a Scot on automatic pilot who picks himself up, dusts himself down and bangs his spear for emphasis. He looks like a relic in keeping with his surroundings: a laughable, malfunctioning palace with a cracked, paint-splashed wall – like an artistic experiment come to grief. Anna Fleischle has a sure touch as a designer of dereliction. There are red balloons, rattling autumn leaves, crystal balls. In Ionesco’s collapsing universe there is no future in the future. The king is 400 years old and running out of time.