The Bald Prima Donna

Tue 6th – Thu 8th December 2011

reviews

Helena Marcelle Baker

at 00:08 on 7th Dec 2011

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The choice to perform an absurd French play in a quintessentially English town, where the strangest sights are the costumes donned in Klute, was an intriguing one. The Bald Prima Donna is at its core a play which, to use a British colloquialism, takes the piss out of the English. However, the inherent problem here was that the majority of the audience were unaware of its dramatic purpose. This meant that its nuances and delights were not fully appreciated, nobody knew that the playwright was inspired by ‘how to speak English’ tapes. Most people did not even realise that it was a translation of a French play. I think that the production team did a disservice to their brave piece by not emphasising this in the programme.

However, as a pompous French student I have both studied and seen the play in Paris, in French. But, after only studying the language for eight years I could certainly not be expected to understand all of the vocabulary, so it was marvelous to see the piece and actually understand it. And it was wondrous. The acting was tremendous and the characters acted in a wonderful symbiosis for which both the director and producer are to be commended. Admittedly, there were a few fumbled lines, but they were, in general, quickly saved by an obviously experienced cast.

This play is particularly difficult because the actors must epitomise the monotony that Ionesco saw in the British, whilst ensuring they do not bore the audience. This is something Connie Byrne-Shore, as Mrs Martin did with tremendous finesse. Particularly impressive was Rebecca Wallbank, as Mrs Smith, whose opening soliloquy demanded attention through an impressive yet subtle performance. However, whilst Lyle Bush’s dramatics were incredibly amusing, his obvious charisma was something of a failing in this play that called for a far more restrained performance.

The use of props was both innovative and impressive. A knife placed decoratively in the bun of Mrs Smith was a thought provoking addition, although the friend who accompanied me seemed incredibly nervous that the result would be a rushed phone call to the emergency services. And this is indicative of an incredibly impressive producer and director (Rebecca Wallbank and Matt Robinson respectively), and kudos to Wallbank for both acting and producing, lets hope Angelina Jolie's attempt is as successful. The direction of the cast was particularly impressive in the final scene of the play, where chaos reigned, but instead of simply being confusing to watch it was really very funny. In fact, my intense laughter, which admittedly is not my most attractive feature, caused many unimpressed stares.

I truly enjoyed this play, but I feel that I was in the minority simply because of a lack of understanding. Perhaps a quick explanatory note in the programme would solve this problem. See, I also give advice, who accused reviewers of just being people who enjoy soporific whining?

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Amy Peters

at 08:56 on 7th Dec 2011

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I think my mind is broken. I think they took my brain, stirred it up (in a teacup, of course), and left me to sit there and ponder the meaning of my own existence. My head hurts.

The Bald Prima Donna, written by one of the founding fathers of Absurdism, Eugene Ionesco, is a truly surreal experience. This was added to by the intimate and somewhat interactive feel to the production – audience members were variously kissed, pelted with cards, or subject to comments about the ‘putrification of their eyes’. This single-act production is set in the home of one Mr and Mrs Smith, and details an evening (debatable – time is apparently such an abstract concept in the Smith household) in which their friends (once again, debatable) Mr and Mrs Martin come to dinner. Chaos, inevitably, ensues.

All acting was of an intimidating standard. From Lyle Bushe’s enthusiastic portrayal of the ridiculously volatile Mr Smith, to Carys Harper’s stubbornly endearing maid, the talent of this cohort is evident. Each actor held their own impressively well, and all deserve such admiration for their ability to learn such nonsense and spout it so convincingly and entertainingly (with only minor mumbles and stumbles). And that is exactly what this production was – supremely entertaining. I spent the evening flitting between bafflement, confusion and hilarity, but never once was I bored. The set was simple and unfussy (though it broke my heart to see a book torn up and partially devoured on stage – all in the name of art, I suppose!), which allowed both the outrageousness of the play itself and the aptitude of the acting to flourish.

This play was a brave and potentially risky choice by Matt Robinson and Rebecca Wallbank, and could have easily fallen flat if unsupported by a talented cast and enthusiastic direction. However, the risk most definitely paid off, and what resulted was a beautiful, fantastically bizarre suspension of reality. If ever the perfect escapist essay-break existed, this is most definitely it. I urge you to see for yourself; visit St John’s Chapel (such a perfect choice of venue for such a ludicrously unconventional play) and have your mind blown by The Bald Prima Donna.

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