When it comes to absurdity there are not many names more famous than Eugene Ionesco. However, among his repertoire there are not many plays less famous than Jack, Or the Submission. Centre Stage’s decision to put it on therefore is both admirable, but also perhaps misguided. The problem with putting on obscure works from well-known writers is that they are usually obscure for a reason.
The first half of the play certainly ranks as highly as anything that that Ionesco has ever written. Jack is stuck in a bin and is berated by his mad family for things seemingly inconsequential or incomprehensible. The strength of this scene lies primarily in its ensemble acting which is quite exquisite. Andrew Raymond as Father Jack has incredible onstage presence and a commanding voice. Likewise Nathan Young as the eponymous Jack is charmingly shy and capable of switching into petulance at the fall of a hat. Also another acting element to be commended is how each and every member of the cast still gave full performances even when their role was simply peripheral. Too many actors who have to occupy background space simply turn off, become still, wait patiently for their next line. However, here each character is fully formed with a whole host of nervous tics and mannerisms. No matter where one looks onstage one sees something interesting.
Ionseco’s script begins to lose pace in its second half. We no longer have the whole cast acting in slick unison. It is left instead to Young’s Jack and Bryony Harrower’s Roberta to carry the show. Although well-acted this scene, in which Jack and Bryony discuss their possible marriage, lacks the humour and the energy of the first. This seems to be a fault in the script and probably the reason why Jack, Or the Submission is not as well-known as some of Ionesco’s other works. Despite Young and Harrower’s best attempts it is quite tedious for quite a while. One longs to see the rest of the cast return.
Jack, Or the Submission is thus a valiant and skilfully put together production of an interesting but flawed script. Fans of Ionesco will have something to relish in this obscure work but the rest of us will only find it half-satisfying.