Allegedly inspired by the writings of Vladimir Nabokov, Gemma Brockis’ revisited play An Execution (By Invitation Only) is a surreal piece that explores the mortality and opacity in a human being. Greg McLaren is the prisoner, soon to be executed. Tom Lyall is the fantastically Wes Anderson-esque Jailer, with a twirling moustache and enormous set of jangling keys, while Simon Kane plays the lawyer, in the most dreadful DIY judge’s wig I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m pretty sure I could’ve made a better one given half an hour and a fiver, but this is irrelevant. The premise is this: the prisoner is to be executed and he continuously asks his lawyer when it will happen. The lawyer is useless and the jailer potters around and cleans, sharpens a pencil and writes poetry about wanting to fuck a spider. That’s literally it.
You have to hand it to them; the team behind An Execution have used the small space of the Camden People’s Theatre in an innovative way. Inside the space sits a white plywood box claiming to be a “cell”, the cell of McLarens’s character. The walls are stapled up panels of white paper, one of which slowly fell down mid-production, coaxing a laugh even from McLaren. Four rows of benches across two sides of the box make up the seats, and the audience and actors are uncomfortably close in proximity. If you like to sit entirely unnoticed in an audience, just as though you are watching the television at home, then maybe give An Execution a miss.
Now I’m not sure if it is Lyall’s moustache and Breton stripe combo, or the whimsical imagery such as talk of a lobster filled with sprinkles, or Kane moonlighting as the executioner in an all-black ensemble, complete with a beret, but the whole thing wreaks of absurdity. Not regular absurdity, but the artsy one, filled with dream-like scenes and hypnotic goings-on. The Nabokov influence is clearly from his 1935 novel Invitation to a Beheading, a work described as ‘Kafka-esque’ in its surreal elements and the way it plays with the fantastical. An Execution does the same, but seemingly for no real reason. It’s stuffed with philosophical musings, but what for? There doesn’t seem to be much context. It is peculiar for the sake of it.
Brockis’ production is extraordinarily messy, and after waiting half an hour after the listed start time, it just doesn’t amount to enough. The humour is there, with Kane’s idiotic lawyer the funniest of the lot, but most of it just doesn’t quite land. Any laughs are garnered through pure ridiculousness, like the feeding of the spider, which was just an eight-legged glory hole mounted in the wall. However, the absurdity and artsy direction, without any real reason for it, makes the piece seem obtuse and inaccessible. An Execution is utterly pointless, whether this is a good or bad thing, I suppose is up to you.
An Execution (By Invitation Only) is playing at Camden People’s Theatre until 29 September. For further information and tickets, click here.