By Jen McGregor
Many of us remember The Stranger and its protagonist, Mersault, from Higher French. Surely many of us who waded through Camus’ text wondering whether anything was going to happen would be surprised to rediscover Mersault as the nuanced, misunderstood individual Guilherme Leme reveals him to be.
It’s a stunning performance. Leme holds the stage effortlessly – no mean feat considering that Mersault is a man who shows very little emotion. When he gets caught up in another man’s argument over a woman and shoots someone dead, it is his apparent coldness rather than his violence that condemns him. It would have been easy to play him as an emotionless monster, but in Leme’s hands he becomes merely a disconnected man, not lacking in feelings but not given to display and constantly nervous of the judgement of others. His Mersault is socially awkward and mistrustful of the excessive sentiment that those around him seem to experience. He becomes surprisingly easy to identify with as socially acceptable demonstrations of feeling begin to seem increasingly ridiculous.
Morten Kirkskov’s adaptation is deft, sticking to the language of fact and physical sensation, resisting the temptation to put emotional words in Mersault’s mouth. This gives Leme great freedom, allowing him to maintain a calm façade while still hinting at how much lies beneath, suppressed for so much of the show.
The production is simple. A single chair conjures up Mersault’s bland surroundings, and the spotlights used in the opening sequence are very effective. Opening the light out to cover the whole stage works less well – the tight focus suits the piece. There are also some slightly strange musical choices, not quite strange enough for a clear juxtaposition but not quite in keeping with the feel of the play either.
However, these are minor niggles. This is an excellent, powerful show and a quietly brilliant performance.