Pros: The abstract nature of the story, setting and acting means there won’t be two interpretations of play that are the same.
Cons: If you don’t like experiments and not knowing what’s going on with the plot, this may not be for you.
The Bald Prima Donna is an absurdist play by French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco. Using the stage at the Old Red Lion Theatre, six characters are thrown together in what looks like a cage, and start interacting with each other in absurd and strange ways. I can only describe the show as organised theatrical chaos. This chaos, which toys with the audience’s feelings and perceptions, is all intentional and part of the experience.
Once you are settled with a drink inside the comfy and cozy theatre space upstairs at the Old Red Lion Pub, the lights go off and suddenly six characters are thrown through a safe door (like the ones in old bank robbery movies). The characters are standing in a white room, with benches of the same color and beams curling upwards, enclosing the scene and making the stage look like a thoracic cage, with the beams playing the ribs. The actors were dressed in party costumes – a bumblebee, a Buzz Lightyear, a clown, a Cinderella – but the costumes were torn, dirty and ragged. The make-up on their faces was runny and smudged, making them look completely disheveled. I have never seen a clown as sad as the one in this play.
The randomness of the scene is intensified by the deep, guttural sounds playing overhead from the speakers, setting the characters on a manic frenzy every time they hear it. The only other musical accompaniment is the song Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart), giving a surprising Christmassy twist to the chaos, and to which the cast started dancing in unison before settling down to begin the dialogues. If you are confused, imagine how I was feeling.
Once they all sit down, the bumblebee, played by Helena Payne, stands up and begins talking about the very English dinner she had, giving full details of the courses, the drinks and the atmosphere. The rest of group listen enthralled, but every time they hear that noise they shiver, panic and some (obviously the sad clown) are close to tears. As the play develops we learn that there are in fact, two couples: the bumblebee and a prisoner are Mr. and Mrs. Smith (played by Payne and Patrick Lenney) and Cinderella and the clown turn out to be Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Darren Beaumont and Cheska Moon). The remaining two are the Smith’s maid (played by Judy Tcherniak), dressed as Queen Victoria, and Buzz Lightyear, played by Rupert Baldwin, who is a firefighter. I couldn’t begin to tell you much more about the plot, every character seemed to have a secret agenda which spurred their dialogues and actions on stage, but as an audience member you never really learn what it is, why they are inside that weird thoracic room, and why they are so afraid to open the safe door and walk out.
Doing some reading on The Bald Prima Donna, I learnt that Ionesco wrote the play whilst trying to learn English using a sort of Rosetta Stone method, and that actually explained a lot about the way the characters speak and phrases they used. Other than that, I am still in shock. This is by far the most bizarre theatrical experience I’ve had. Once recovered, I started to appreciate the high quality of the acting and the work done. The cast was truly fantastic, they smoothly delivered complicated characters and extremely intense situations; we were all on edge and expectant of the next scene. Payne and Beaumont in their roles were especially interesting to watch.
My advice when it comes to this show: go and see what you make of it, it’s only an hour long!
Author: Eugene Ionesco
Director: Benji Sperring
Producer: Tarquin Productions
Box Office: 0844 412 4307
Booking Link: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/
Booking Until: 3rd January 2014