Producer: Extant and Turtle Keys
Director: Maria OShodi
Ass. Director: Julie Osman
Designer: Andrea Carr
Lighting Design: Steve Lowe
Sound Design: Thor
Cast: Old Man: John Wilson Goddard ’14 / Tim Gebbels’16, Old Woman: Heather Gilmore,
Photography: Terry Braun Arts, Peter Williams
Albany Theatre Depford, Arena Wolverhampton 2014, Harlow Playhouse, Mac Birmingham, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Stratford Circus London ’16.
Special Thanks: Scenery Salvage and Tim Williams
Extant – The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco translation Martin Crimp
The design (model and selected images) was featured as part of UK contingent at World Stage 2017, Taiwan.
Extant’s prescient interpretation of The Chairs, played by blind actors (Extant is the UK’s leading visually-impaired theatre company) brought an extra dimension to Ionesco’s absurdist classic. Invisible guests arrive at the invitation of two old people, as the Old Man gets ready to impart am urgent message he waits for an Orator to speak on his behalf.
The design explores systems failure, siting the piece in a non-specific flooded research station surrounded by rising toxic sea in post-apocalyptic breakdown. This was further expressed by the succession of over 40 chairs, brought on through concealed entrances (by the Old Woman) in progressive stages of decay, culminating in one chair leg.
“The action evokes both the futility of the objects in a world seemingly without people, and also the experience of becoming visually impaired, seeing only parts of things as vision dims.” Maria Oshodi
Re-imagining the Oritor, who arrives in full hazmat suit checking toxicity levels, believed to be the Oritor the couple have been waiting for he finds himself charged with delivering the Old Man’s message, thwarted in the final instance by failing technology, that scrambles his voice.
Attention was paid to the tactile nature of the design; integrating the actors’ access needs into the creative process and aesthetic, making a textured model for the director and cast to feel, design included navigation aids such as textured zones on the floor and interactive surfaces for the touch tours. Mop and squeaky bucket aided the Old Man character.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The set, made entirely from reclaimed/recycle scenery and objects was recycled back to Scenery Salvage at the end of its life.
What People Say:
“Being allowed to touch, push and turn the various dials, switches, keyboards, circuit boards, telephones and buttons on this extraordinarily elaborate set is a childhood dream come true if you are lucky enough to get involved with a Touch Tour.” Disability Arts Online
“Knowing that this is a production specially designed for a visually impaired audience adds an entirely new dimension to proceedings. Audio descriptions track each actor’s movements; an increased concentration of sound effects helps to bring the play to life in a new way; and Andrea Carr’s set suddenly becomes much more intricate than first meets the eye. The floor is textured with grates and manhole covers so that the actors know exactly where to walk and interact. The props suddenly become movement aids, the mop in particular.” A Younger Theatre
“I’ve only waited 20 years to see #TheChairs amazing production @extantltd”
“stunningly beautiful set design”
“The production is supported by Andrea Carr’s superbly imagined set that has accessible features for the cast, while visually enhancing the productions themes of ‘system’s failure’. The entropy of decay is present internally in the body and memory of the characters as well as reflected externally by Ionesco, both socially and environmentally. Systems overload and breakdown occur on every level, until nothing remains, ‘nothing’ being Ionesco’s ultimate message in this play.” Maria Oshodi interview, London Calling