DOMINATING the programme cover for this hard-hitting production is a large blue apple.

A seemingly jolly piece of art nouveau, you surmise, until you notice something superimposed onto the apple's face - a faint semblance of a skull.

This haunting image sets the tone for the nightmarish twists in Eugène Ionesco's drama, which opens with a seemingly innocuous lesson between an erratic professor and his young female pupil.

But the leisurely exchange descends into a dark, disturbing and ultimately brutal malaise.

Designer Christopher Hone's bleak arrangement of blackened furniture provides surfaces for the professor to furiously scribble endless phrases.

By the end the set is covered in nonsensical chalk markings, starkly demonstrating the chaos at the heart of the play.

Eastman is chilling as the wayward teacher battling dark, paedophile urges, while Amy Loughton is fantastic as the innocent teenager who realises too late the mental torture to which she is being subjected.

I think some audience members were taken aback initially by the stylised dialogue, but placed in context, the overall meaning begins to make sense.

But written in the aftermath of the Second World War, The Lesson is a comment on the devastation suffered by shell-shocked nations, such as Ionesco's native Romania, at the hands of Nazi Germany.

A daring production by an energetic new company, the London-based Icarus Theatre Collective, it pulls no punches in its visceral pursuit of pure absurdism.