The Lesson

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The Lesson

63-word Short Copy for social media, other limited space:

Icarus’ blistering, magical and award-winning production of Eugène Ionesco’s classic dark comedy returns to the stage.

A mild-mannered professor takes on a new pupil, and swiftly descends intotyranny, becoming bent on her destruction; a comically surreal exposé aboutpower, knowledge and those who hoard both.

A dynamic projection design encapsulates the beating heart of Ionesco’s textand interweaves exciting new Creative Captioning technology.

134-word Long Copy for websites, brochures, etc:

“It is impossible not to enjoy Icarus Theatre’s production of Ionesco’s one-act play.”  The Stage

‘In this world of ours, Mademoiselle, one can never be sure of anything…’

Icarus’ blistering, magical and award-winning production of Eugene Ionesco’s classic dark comedy returns to the stage. Following sold out runs at Teatrul de Comedie in Bucharest, among others.

A mild-mannered professor takes on a new pupil, and swiftly descends into tyranny, becoming bent on her destruction; a comically surreal exposé about power, knowledge and those who hoard both.

A dynamic projection design encapsulates the beating heart of Ionesco’s text and interweaves exciting new Creative Captioning technology to ensure that every performance is accessible for deaf and hard of hearing audiences.

Supported by Arts Council England, and Mantle.

“Timely and fascinating.” ★★★★ The Times  ★★★★★


Icarus’ blistering and award-winning dark comedy returns to the stage.

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟"Director Max Lewendel has taken Theatre of the Absurd to a newlevel"


Ground-breaking, superb, unmissable:


🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟“An anarchic attack on totalitarianism”


🌟🌟🌟🌟"90 minutes of pure theatre"


"Chilling and macabre, interesting and terrifying,hypnotic and riveting. A timeless fantasy"




🌟🌟🌟🌟"Shocking, top-quality theatre"


🌟🌟🌟🌟"Irreverent... brilliant"


🌟🌟🌟🌟"Flawless... expertly choreographed by Max Lewendel."


🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟“ananarchic attack on totalitarianism”


🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟"Absolutely excellent, intelligent and innovative"




🌟🌟🌟🌟"You don't just see the performance; you become fully immersed in theabsurdity of the text"


🌟🌟🌟🌟"A must-see production"

Copy for Programmers (not to be used publicly)

The metaphor behind this play is quite simply a dictator behind the facade of ‘working for the many’ who becomes drunk with power and hate (i.e., Hitler, Trump).  He turns on those to whom he promised a brave new world and becomes ruthless, killing discriminately, imprisoning free thought, and destroying new ideas.

Coronavirus: This play was intended as a warning against Nazi fascism and the time is perfect for the audience to make the comparison to Boris, Donald, and other contemporary political figures, and in particular their handling of the deadly pandemic, a farce turned deadly serious.

Title Listing:

The Lesson by Eugène Ionesco

translation by Donald Watson


Jeremy Kingston, The Times

Here is a bracing account of a play that helped to thrust its author to the forefront of the so-called Theatre of the Absurd some 50 years ago. I had not expected Ionesco’s strange parable of sex’n’violence to hold the stage so well, after many of the ideas he initiated have spread into the mainstream. But Max Lewendel’s touring production for Icarus Theatre succeeds by the strength of its acting and the steadily increasing tension. His direction introduces a more vivid sexuality than Peter Hall would have been permitted in 1955, directing the first English production at a time when theatre censorship preferred French windows to French drama.

A pupil arrives at a professor’s apartment. She is eager, impulsive and, as Amy Loughton plays her, unaware that she radiates sexuality. She twirls her fingers, she bounces, she grins and disconcerts the stammering young-old professor. John Eastman smiles awkwardly, fiddles with his academic gown, praises her slightest achievement. That she knows that one and one make two sends him into ecstasy.

But problems appear. Subtraction baffles her, though she can multiply billions. No longer is she the model pupil. Eastman’s voice hardens. He throws chalk. When he switches to philology she is slow to grasp the distinctions of pronunciation that the audience realises do not exist.

Something more alarming than education is going on here, and when eventually, as bookshelves collapse, he symbolically rapes and stabs her to death (the 40th pupil he has thus dispatched that day) we are watching the workings of unchecked power. In the closing scene the professor’s culpably forgiving maid (Julia Munrow) pins a US armband on him (in Ionesco’s text he suggests a swastika), and the author shows himself as political – and contemporary – as any writer setting his play in a modern war zone. This remains a timely and fascinating play.

Eleanor Weber, Raddest Right Now

The experience of watching this absurdist drama, directed here by Max Lewendel, is somewhat like that of watching actors play out caricatures in a melodrama; our emotions are constantly being toyed with as we are thrust from one extreme to the next. Comedy, tragedy, fear, mystery, sex, violence, disturbance: The Lesson has them all.

The experience is further intensified by the physical limitations of the Old Red Lion Theatre. The tiny, square, bench-seated, three-tiered theatre doesn’t allow the audience much of that sublime seclusion many theatres offer (especially if one is sitting front-row, as I was). The action is literally happening right in front of you; the reality/fantasy barrier is very narrow here. This made the play all the more powerful for me as these larger-than-life characters, in this illogical scenario, are living and breathing right at your feet (I was even kicked by The Professor in a scene of heightened action!).

In fact, Icarus Theatre Collective uses this intimate setting to its advantage in many areas. The concise set (designed by Christopher Hone) fits perfectly with the action and almost becomes a character in itself in the role of an ever-extending chalkboard, which The Professor (John Eastman) uses more and more maniacally as the play evolves. Eventually the entire set (notably, all black, except for an array of dark hard-bound books and various nick-knacks) is covered in the insane ramblings of The Professor. This proves an extremely effective metaphor for the deterioration of the lesson and the loss of control, which marks The Professor’s steady demise.

The characters are the focal point of The Lesson. They come from three of Theatre’s largest character-pools - Maid, Pupil, Professor – and this has given the actors brilliant resources which to base their versions on. At first, I felt The Pupil (Amy Loughton) was taking over-acting to new heights and was duly concerned. However, as the play progressed Loughton masterfully portrayed the deterioration of The Pupil’s enthusiasm for the lesson and her increasing pain at being in the presence of The Professor. I soon realised this over-acting was actually the exaggeration inherent to absurdism, which all three actors used successfully to create these intense, hyperbolic characters.

The music (sound design by Matt Downing) is also a well-used device in The Lesson. The very particular way it is introduced – through The Professor’s elaborate ritual of placing the record-needle and The Pupil’s resultant jubilation at the music produced – establishes music as an innate aspect of the play. It continues to be implemented effectively throughout to strengthen and give further meaning to times of high tension or importance.

Indeed, the general intensity of this play is it’s strongest point, however it is by no means all there is to it. Ionesco makes sure he throws in just enough wit and irony to be sure we don’t take it all too seriously. This tactic is implemented in the last scene when we cannot believe The Professor has killed his pupil and even less so The Maid’s reaction to this fact - she hugs him like a little boy and says it will all be okay. It is at this point The Maid (Julia Munrow) reveals this as the fortieth time The Professor has killed a pupil today! Ah, immediate relief for the audience as we are reminded this is absurdism, – phew! - we can laugh. I think.

Of course the sinister aspects of this play remain palpable; soon another pupil knocks enthusiastically at the door, ready for their lesson. The set is still in disarray from the last killing, and The Maid futilely attempts to clean up – but what to do with the bloody knife? It is at this point the play ends, a neat circle, which Ionesco has linked up so perfectly. And it is at this point we clearly see the genius of The Lesson and, hence, Icarus Theatre’s interpretation.

★★★★Rebecca Banks, Ham & High

Almost full marks school of Absurd

They start mad and they get madder. Yet such is the energy compelling the characters in this production that the audience are aghast as they observe 50 different ways to teach 4 - 3= 1 for one and a half hours.

Written by Eugene Ionesco as a political analogy in 1951, The Lesson becomes a nightmare as the teacher turns into a violent dictator.

Ionesco is a brave or foolish choice for a newcomer. This is Theatre of The Absurd and it can fall flat on its face at the drop of a hat.

But director Max Lewendel has his own vision for the piece.The actors start larger than life. Amy Loughton's impossibly keen, impossibly innocent pupil twists her fingers in a study of manic gaucheness. And when she sits, anticipation lifts her legs and excitement crosses and uncrosses her feet with intriguing speed.

John Eastman is intensely focused as the professor. His impeccably formal congratulations on the correct answer to 1 + 1 burst forth with well-meaning fervour and delight - only to switch to the utmost gravity as he asks for her views on 'plurality' with such deliberation that the question quivers with significance.

This is how the mania and the high style succeed. The actor's energy is directed so specifically that the beast of chaos that charges through Ionesco's work like his own rhinoceros is safely routed through the play. Lewendel's Icarus Theatre Collective is a strong team. A subtle choice of music underscores the text.

The design, brilliantly conceived to reflect the galloping chaos, consists of the whole set and everyhing in it being painted mat black - so the chalked messages that begin on the blackboard spill out onto cupboards, walls, tables, floor, like graffiti escaped.

Kevin Hurst, Extra! Extra!

On first sight The Lesson seems an uncomplicated affair; a young pupil's first meeting with her new professor. However, what unfolds after the first few minutes of this one-act play is anything but straightforward.

How would you translate "The roses of my grandmother are as yellow as my grandfather who was born in Asia" into Neo-Spanish? How about into Italian? Or Latin even? Can you multiply 5,162,303,508 by 3,755,998,351 without using a pencil? Could you define plurality? This play might be called The Lesson but don't expect to learn the answers to any of these questions here. Oh no, you're going to learn something far more important. This lesson is most certainly not for those who want to sit at the back and pass notes.

The Icarus Theatre collective's production of Eugene Ionesco's absurdist masterpiece is brilliant. A fast-paced, sixty-five minute screaming journey from a bare classroom into utter chaos. It is exactly this journey that is such a delight to watch.

Christopher Hone's inspired set design, which starts out dark and claustrophobic, unfolds before the audience like an impossible arithmetic problem into one giant blackboard. The staging perfectly compliments the solid performances from an equally strong trio. From John Eastman's brilliant performance as The Professor, who descends minute-by-minute from timid fool into raging tyrant to Amy Loughton's flight from comic to tragic as 'The Pupil.' Julia Munrow's foreboding 'Maid' is as chilling as the classical score which underpins the whole piece.

What the company achieves so well is creating a sense of loss of meaning, which is so inherent to this piece. It perfectly captures the meaningless nature of words, language, even meaning itself and, with that, the sheer futility of it all. My only gripe at Max Lewendel's direction was the use of the American arm-band and hat which seemed a well-intended attempt to make the play more current but came off feeling a tad contrived.

The most impressive thing, which is a testament to the Icarus Theatre Collective's work, is that by the end of the play it is not the characters that have learnt from this lesson, but the audience themselves.

Francesca Whiting, The Stage

It is impossible not to enjoy Icarus Theatre Collective’s production of Ionesco’s one-act play. It is a perfectly cast piece of absurd theatre that will leave you scratching your head in wonder.

John Eastman plays the professor with the right balance of menace and hilarity, initially mild-mannered, but as his pupil’s limitations become more evident, his frustrations grow until he becomes a dangerous, bullying tyrant.

Increasingly sinister looks are thrown at his innocent pupil, while Julia Munrow makes a strikingly austere figure as the maid, who warns the professor not to teach mathematics or philology. But her warnings fall on deaf ears as he becomes more frantic - not unlike the sketch from TV’s The Fast Show, where Johnny Nice Painter transforms into a madman at the mention of the word ‘black’ - “Black, black - you lock me in the cellar and feed me pins!”

There’s an inventive use of the stage as blackboards double up to become doors, and the floor becomes a blackboard, as the play gains pace and the professor frantically scribbles in chalk everywhere, while the classical music adds to the sense of urgency and madness. One particularly effective exchange is when the professor is teaching his pupil how to subtract. She cannot understand the concept of subtraction, although she turns out to be a genius at addition, and so ensues a fast-paced exchange of numbers between them.

Amy Loughton plays the wide-eyed pupil with such huge enthusiasm that she is constantly jigging about, and any irritation at her over-acting is short lived as the play becomes increasingly nonsensical and disturbing.

★★★★Alan Francois,

Much like the government ads that proclaim kids are positively gagging to be taught pretty much anything, as you watch the professor (John Eastman) begin The Lesson, you get the nagging feeling that something just isn't quite right. It certainly isn't - but while the simple logic of subtraction is lost upon the otherwise prodigious student (Amy Loughton) no matter how much he tries to explain, our interest is multiplied by the ironic commentary on pedagogy, in addition to remarks on the stability of knowledge itself, equating with an enjoyable and thought provoking - if not bemusing - evening.

"You can never be sure of anything" scrawls the professor over the blackboard, and while we're all amused at the absurdity of 1+1 and 4-3, when he turns to philology you're not sure whether Ionesco is mocking the pretentious or the low-brow with a sprinkling of references that only the linguists will get, and worst of all, you'll still laugh, due to the jolly and brooding pace. Soon enough, the chemistry between the two characters begins to fizzle into something more than a professional relationship - slightly disconcerting as we're not quite sure how old she's supposed to be - boundaries are breached and the utility of force is brought into disrepute. Again, we are lead to question the authority of knowledge.

Faced with the question of authority (or rather, lack of) today's teachers might well take a warming to the professor's methods but in the original play the finger was actually pointing at Nazi oppression. Icarus have given this a new twist, and it won't take a Oxbridge graduate to guess which 'oppressive regime' has replaced the Nazis. It seems clever; fitting, but a little stale in the face of all the other plays that cover this topic, and right from the start, rather than a bit seemingly tacked-on at the end. This is nitpicking, but otherwise I would have been forced to give the production a top rating. As it stands, with excellent leads, well directed sound and a clever set, you cannot fail to be entertained - not to mention baffled and left a tad pensive - quite simply meaning you've just experienced good theatre. It's not rocket science - don't be absurd, I'm telling you, that's how it works!

Marion Cox

THEATRE of the absurd took off in the 1950s with this one-act drama by Eugene Ionesco, played to perfection in this production by the Icarus Theatre company in which warnings of dark things to come are heralded by the sombre set in which everything, even the clothing of the maid, is grey. An excited, fluffy-headed girl arrives at the home of a professor for some tuition but is soon out of her depth. The professor, the archetypal egghead, presents her with ever-increasingly fatuous questions and their relationship slowly changes from benign tolerance to hysterical anger and violence.

A first rate cast is headed by an energetic John Eastman who superbly manages to blend irrational bullying with erotic fondling of his pupil, the restlessly chattering young ingénue played with astonishing maturity by Amy Loughton. Julia Munrow is the dour maid, forever trying to protect her master from his own shocking behaviour.

As the fun inexorably fades from the classroom and turns to horror, Ionesco's message of the abuse of power by those in authority becomes spelt out loud and clear in a play that takes a grotesque situation and makes it all too horrifically believable.

A background of measured baroque music only serves to highlight the ferocity of a drama that is as stimulating as it is unsettling.

★★★★★Dominic Allen,

A Masterclass Lesson in Acting 14 Aug 2007 . The Icarus Theatre Collective have produced an utterly sumptuous revival of a Ionesco classic, cleverly creating a rich atmosphere through lights, sounds and set that instantly grabs the audience. The level of acting was superb, raising the bar for actors all over the Fringe, by giving Ionesco's dialogue a fierce manic energy. In short, superb performances in a brilliant production of a hilarious play. See it.


Others need lessons. 21 Aug 2007 . I saw the lesson over the weekend and was very impressed with the realism and conviction of all involved. The unforgiving deconstruction of a young mind by a troubled professor was conveyed brilliantly and the rising tension grew to form a climax that seemed enormous considering the small theatre in which it was performed. I am also quite bemused at the scathing attack below and can only conclude that the said person cannot comprehend a performance that lies outside of the limited view in which they see Ionesco. A purist view, without room for variation, much like the tormentors ionesco highlighted in his work. An intelligent adaptation I would highly recommend.

★★★★★Amanda Raddick,

What an amazing show! A cast that truly deliver and such a bizzarre event! I have no idea what was going on half the time and still loves every minute. If you're in the mood for something different and gripping, terrifying and hilarious, have a look at this!

★★★★★ Mark Stevenson,

Great show at Hill Street! 13 Aug 2007  One of the most stunning productions I have seen in a long time. This dramatic re-invention of such a wonderful (and often lost) classic text is such a welcome relief. Superbly acted by all three performers, they interact brilliantly with an ever-changing set, score, and even lighting! I was initially thrown by some unusual cuts to the text and some rather striking directrial choices and eventually saw their relevance and potency, showing the decent into madness these characters face, and for the 40th time today! Really a lovely addition and breath of fresh air. Can't recommend this show enough. Go see it


Excellent 18 Aug 2007 Ionesco's madness, sureal style and humour can be difficult to understand if you have never heard of him. Some of his french play may even be impossible to translate, but This play is fantastically translated and played by professional actors. A real pleasure.

★★★★Fiona Dunlop ,

bizarre brain bender 11 Aug 2007. This play grips and bemuses.The acting was superb and the subject matter thought-provoking. The ideas chase through your head for a long time after the play is over(we had to google to discover exactly what it was all about).I do think,however, that the girl is played as too young making it more unnecessarily pervy.

Daniel Lombard, South Wales Argus

The Lesson, Blake Theatre, Monmouth. Dominating the programme cover for this hard-hitting production is a large blue apple.

A seemingly jolly piece of art nouveau, you surmise, until you notice something superimposed onto the apple's face - a faint semblance of a skull. This haunting image sets the tone for the nightmarish twists in Eugène Ionesco's drama, which opens with a seemingly innocuous lesson between an erratic professor and his young female pupil.

But the leisurely exchange descends into a dark, disturbing and ultimately brutal malaise.

Designer Christopher Hone's bleak arrangement of blackened furniture provides surfaces for the professor to furiously scribble endless phrases. By the end the set is covered in nonsensical chalk markings, starkly demonstrating the chaos at the heart of the play.

Eastman is chilling as the wayward teacher battling dark, paedophile urges, while Amy Loughton is fantastic as the innocent teenager who realises too late the mental torture to which she is being subjected. I think some audience members were taken aback initially by the stylised dialogue, but placed in context, the overall meaning begins to make sense. But written in the aftermath of the Second World War, The Lesson is a comment on the devastation suffered by shell-shocked nations, such as Ionesco's native Romania, at the hands of Nazi Germany.

Maria Sarbu, Jurnalul National

(Translated from the Romanian)

In Bucharest the public's memory will surely remain on the creative performance of "The Lesson" by Eugene Ionesco, produced by Icarus Theatre Collective in London. A jewel of a show; perfect. Actress Amy Loughton (Pupil) and actor John Eastman (Profesor) have managed a difficult and elegant performance under the baton of a talented director, Max Lewendel. Marie (the third role, played by Julia Munrow) helped and the set was inspired and functional designed by Christopher Hone. For 1h 5 minutes, the duration of the show, the audience was deeply impressed by the talent of actors and their performance.

A daring production by an energetic new company, the London-based Icarus Theatre Collective, it pulls no punches in its visceral pursuit of pure absurdism.

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What is Creative Captioning?

Normal captioning uses a surtitle box over the stage that serves no dramatic purpose, distracts from the story, and is heavily criticised by the Deaf community as being like "reading a play while watching a play."

Our new captioning technology (and indeed the whole design working inconcert) functions almost as an additional character on stage.  The cast interact.  It interacts with them.

We don’t just display “Music plays” to describe the score, but instead musical notes travel along the walls, moving in ways that allow Deaf/HoH audiences to understand the emotion behind the music and at the same time gives the hearing audience an extra sensory perception of the story.

We are also able to enhance words visually the way the cast say them. We don’t need to write a lot of text to describe a town; we can just draw the town onthe chalkboard.

Hearing audiences have responded enthusiastically that our Creative Captioning enhances rather than distracts and Deaf audiences have unanimously said that this type of technology would bring them to the theatre more.

Learn more here:

Workshop programme forthcoming