A “harrowing” play to watch in its refusal to let viewers relax, Les Justes appeals to the inspired intellect as it forces the audience to question themselves on the nature of as diversely controversial subjects as love, brotherhood, and justice.
The overarching tale of the true story of the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich incorporates the essence of humanity through its deeply psychological characters that truly immerse you into their inner souls whilst desperately struggling to free themselves of a world where “there is no justice” and no freedom. The play works on several levels of complexity: social injustice in a world of tyranny, the role of brotherhood and secret organisations, the relationship between potential lovers, and the conscience of the individual; intertwining all viewpoints into themes of deep contemplation, reflecting the very essence of Camus’s existentialism. The phenomenal characterisation by actors enabled the complexity of Camus’s philosophy to be portrayed as well as maintaining the narrative thread of the tale of five assassins and their personal and collective struggles to overcome issues of practicality – the unexpected presence of children – and emotion – “I couldn’t do it!.
The set layout for the production was promising, with an attractive appearance of artistic arrangement and attention to detail: entangled rope lacing the ceiling with dangling lightbulbs and a hangman’s noose. Elaborate collections of book-stacks and newspaper cuttings plastering the walls all promised great potential that was unfortunately unfulfilled in the lack of engagement with set or props – the purpose of several book piles, for example, was never explained. The lighting, however, was used to great effect, especially in prison scenes to build upon the mystery and fear evoked by the entry of shady character, Foka, the hangman. Yet, it can be argued that in a play focusing on the internal workings of an individual, there was no real necessity for huge prop/set/costume embellishment.
The set did, however, provide a necessary visual distraction and enjoyment, as Les Justes is often seen as a play that can easily become a series of endless, abstract and disconnected speeches on the nature of justice and humanity. In a play where such emphasis on human nature is quintessential, the characterisation was crucial to the creation of an atmospheric tension that rose and peaked throughout the performance. A special moment for me was the despairing shout of Boris Annenkov (played by Matthew Bradley) in his frustrated realisation of the limits of humanity and the huge impossibility of his individual mission to set out for prevailing justice; his portrayal sent a shiver down my spine in his absolutely convincing portrayal of self-doubt and despair inherent in the existentialist ambiance of the play.
Overall, a fantastic portrayal of Camus’s Les Justes with its in-depth characterisation, attention to detail, and portrayal of truly-inspiring and absolutely believable characters that captured the essence of humanity, the struggle for justice and quintessential fear in an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty. The characterisation and phenomenal acting encapsulated the essence of humanity amidst broader, elusive questions of justice, making it a memorable play that will stay with you long after the final bow.
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Les Justes is on at the Corpus Playroom, 7pm, until Saturday. Get your tickets here.