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Cross Purpose, King’s Head Theatre

Albert Camus
Directed by Stephen Whitson

Pros: A sharp production with an extremely strong cast. Excellent lighting, costume and sound design that compliment the seedy and unnerving themes and (not so under) undertones perfectly.

Cons: It’s bloody depressing.

Our Verdict: This is an excellent all-round production of which the cast, creative and production teams should be extremely proud – pity about the writing.

Courtesy of the King’s Head Theatre

It is a brave turn to perform a play by Albert Camus – an accessible, crowd pleaser he is not. I last encountered Camus in A-level equivalent French class for which I had to read his novel L’Étranger (The Stranger). This, if I remember correctly, was a lot of work, for after translating the story from French, one had to figure out what the heck it meant in English. One would hope an English translation of his works – particularly a play where you can see as well as hear meaning – would be a less labourious experience. However, as a great philosopher, Camus’ words are often laden with double meaning; he creates his own language of metaphors and makes his observations of the world through the medium of writing, this time on the stage. While this is clever, enlightening and, at times, rather amusing, it does get tiresome; sometimes my dear, a cigar is just a cigar.

In a dry and depressing desert Camus presents us with two worn-out women, a mother and daughter duo running an inn with their almost entirely silent man-servant – silent most-likely because he can’t get a word in edgeways between his two mistresses: the old mother, whining about her weariness; the daughter, lamenting over her misfortune at being stuck in her dark, land-locked country when she longs to be in the sun by the sea; and the two of them scheming to kill off their customers and steal their money.

Enter a well-off, happily married traveler and his wife who, against his wife’s better instincts, have come from her much more desirable, sun-kissed, sea-side home country, where they were both very happy, back to his homeland (where they are at once uneasy and anxious) so that he may re-unite with his inn-keeper sister and mother as the long-lost prodigal son. Having left his mother and sister years ago, he goes unrecognised and, refusing to come out with his identity straight…well, three guesses as to his fate.

Set up for the potential of a lovely fuzzy and warm ending, circumstances spin out of control further and further into despair so that the only observation of the world that could possibly be made from the story is that there is no hope for anyone. Each individual, no matter how good, no matter how happy, no matter how evil or depressed, will end up in exactly the same state: desperate and alone in the depths of despair. I told you: depressing.

If it weren’t for the quality of the production, the brutality of the themes, which I found way overdone – we get it, life apparently sucks – would be enough for a more severe rating. However the writing is certainly no fault of a production that is extremely tight. The performances are, for the most part, insightfully and subtly delivered for such a heavy going script, with a particularly nuanced performance by Jamie Birkett as the daughter/murderess. Furthermore, the costume, lighting, set and sound design skillfully augment the dark, cold and severe setting, immediately creating the unease that the foreign travelers – and even the inn-owners – feel (i.e. this is not the place you want to be!).

Truly, I cannot fault this production as a production (perhaps bar the length given the content). Cohesive and thoughtful in its direction and design, it is only with the script itself with which I take issue. Ultimately, I would recommend it as a superb piece of theatre, perhaps to those who can handle cynicism better than a Canadian.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Cross Purpose runs at the King’s Head Theatre until 11th November 2012.
Box Office: 0207 478 0160 or book online at

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