An absurd old world

Largo Desolato, by Hongkong Players the Fringe Club Theatre, January 29-31.

THE Hongkong Players' offering at this year's Fringe Festival was Tom Stoppard's English version of Vaclav Havel's Largo Desolato.

The central character in this play is Leopold, a philosopher, who has written an essay that has offended an official. This puts him in an extremely intense state and has him pacing around his tiny, claustrophobic apartment, expecting to be arrested at any moment.

To add to the stress, Leopold is visited by two female fans who work at a paper mill. Unwittingly they add pressure by telling him that lots of people depend on him and are awaiting his next piece.

''We know everything about you,'' one of the fans says adoringly. In the circumstances, though, such an innocent remark can seem to carry a threat. His friend, Bertram, tries to cheer him up with a rather lengthy rationale as to why he should not feel undermined by the expectations of all the workers at the paper mill.

Leopold's fragile condition is encroached upon further by his girlfriend, Lucy, who demands that he says he loves her. As a man who is very precise with words, he replies evasively that he always avoids ''off-the-peg'' expressions.


There is more anxiety for Leopold when a couple of the authorities' henchmen arrive. These chaps, the flip side of Goldberg and McCann those sinister intruders in Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, propose to drop the whole matter if he signs a declaration saying he is not the person who wrote the offending essay. To do so, he reasons, would be to deny his own existence. A tricky one that, even for a philosopher.

Roughly translated, the play's title can be taken to mean ''a comfortless movement, to be performed slowly''. It should be noted, however, that this is the title and not a stage direction.

Yet Colin Crisswell, as director, allowed this production a heaviness and slowness that produced a tedium which, in turn, prevented any enjoyment of the piece. Despite the seriousness of the play's theme, it should have provided the audience with a lot of fun.

Bertram's long, philosophical speech, for example, contained much elevated language, yet it ended with a very mundane reference to the two fans from the paper mill.


The incongruity here gives plenty of scope for laughter, provided the main body of the speech is delivered with conviction and energy; but, since the part was played by an inexperienced amateur actor who needed help from his director, and clearly did not get it, this was not the case.

The play does, after all, fall into the category of ''absurdist'' theatre, containing much humour, despite its underlying, pessimistic concern with the absurd condition of mankind.


There were good performances, however, from David Beaves as Leopold, Karina Zahibi as Lucy, Liz Case as Marguerite, a student, as well as by Don Radlaur and Richard Gee as the henchmen.

Even so, stronger direction could have made all of the characters much more credible than they appeared.