AM Production’s very satisfying version of Cross Purpose or ‘Le Malentendu’ by Nobel Laureate Albert Camus shows us entertainment doesn’t always have to be light laughs. The 1944 play, directed by Stephen Whitson, is seeped in Camus’ philosophy of Absurdism; the philosophy suggests one accept the search for life’s meaning is futile because there are too many unknown factors but continue to explore nevertheless.
Jan returns home after twenty years with his wife. He wants to surprise his mother and sister in their guesthouse and share his newfound wealth with them, so asks his wife to go elsewhere and decides to stay anonymous until his family recognise him. This proves a dangerous decision as his sister is intent on leaving the dreary land of her own accord and her mother has taken to killing wealthy guests for their money by dumping them in the river.
The play is rich in observations of society, the world and relationships between men and women; it’s surprisingly witty and incredibly entertaining. A great cast aids the comprehensibility of a potentially difficult script. Jamie Birkett shines as the sister Martha: unemotional, relentless to reach her dream of a life by the sea, Birkett’s consistency of character strongly anchors the performance’s absurdist tone. Christina Thornton as the Mother, wavering from emotion to indifference, aware of her faults and their consequences, beautifully shows how life’s rigid beliefs can soften over time.
David Lomax as Jan and Melissanthi Mahut as his wife Maria are the opposites of this mother-daughter pair with their innocent air and optimistic wishes for the future. Their performances are accentuated by lovely costume choices from Ilona Russell which illustrate the contrast beautifully without shattering the belief that all characters belong in the same space. The huggable enthusiasm of Jan and the passionate love of Maria are initially easier to accept for the audience than the harsh hopeless ideology of Martha and her mother. Yet slowly the couple’s exuberance also makes one question the naivety in the real world and as the second act gives an insight into Martha’s life we even finding some understanding for her cruel stance. Leonard Fenton plays the enigmatic manservant is silent until his last entrance on stage; his appearance first takes us by surprise but his response to a despairing Maria brings a pitch perfect end to this intense play.