Tag Archives: Eugene Ionesco

The Bald Prima Donna

Drayton Arms Theatre

The Bald Prima Donna

The Bald Prima Donna

Drayton Arms Theatre

Reviewed – 5th June 2019



“Julie Drake’s direction establishes the mastery of Ionesco’s script while risking a contemporary slant”


It wasn’t until he decided to teach himself English in his late thirties that Eugene Ionesco was inspired to write his first play, ‘The Bald Prima Donna’, which premiered in 1950. Diligently copying the simple, conversational phrases of his Assimil course, these sentences began to lose their educational purpose and take on a life of their own, expanding and distorting to give an underlying surrealism to an outwardly controlled and orderly way of life. Considered as one of the core representatives of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, his linguistic fascination leads to an observation of everyday situations and behaviour with innocence and often, puzzlement. The directness of his fast-moving, humorous dialogues appeals to audiences because of their familiarity as he moves them out of context, creating nonsensical mirror-worlds.

‘The Bald Prima Donna’ is cleverly structured as a gradual awareness of our use of words, clichés and maxims, the action accelerating from tranquil niceties to raging gobbledegook. In 5Go Theatre Company’s revival of this ‘anti-play’, Julie Drake’s direction establishes the mastery of Ionesco’s script while risking a contemporary slant and original artistic touches. The multi-racial casting and passages in Spanish and Polish are a thoughtful update on today’s stereotypical society but the initial narrated stage directions, however amusing, perhaps undermine the ability to put across the ‘Englishness’ through the acting.

A typical, middle-class scene is set in Mr and Mrs Smith’s living room – he is fixedly reading the newspaper and she is quietly darning socks. The peace is broken and the tone of the unexpected is set when the clock strikes seventeen and Mrs Smith comments “Goodness! It’s nine o’clock!”. They discuss domestic banalities; they are visited by their friends, the Martins, who discover, after a while, that they themselves just married; the Smith’s maid, Mary, appears to confuse things; finally, the Fire Chief arrives to put out a non-existent fire. On the whole, the actors create well-defined characters, though the opening scene lacks a quirkiness.

Sunil Patel portrays an unflinching Mr Smith, with a worrying glint in his eye but Kate Ruscombe-King, as his wife, sometimes rushes through her lines, leaving Mrs Smith as a less rounded role and not giving the audience time to absorb Ionesco’s writing. There is a change of gear as Mr and Mrs Martin enter in full eccentricity. Hugo Linton does well, clinging on to his sanity while Penelope Bosworth gives a wonderful interpretation as her immaculate self-control eventually gives way. Leena Makoff (Mary) balances the clever yet peculiar maid beautifully and Fabio Torrico conjures up a particularly vibrant Fire Chief.

Although the pacing and colour of the performances take time to get under the skin of Ionesco’s work, it is nice to see an interesting, committed and entertaining production of this ambitious ‘tragedy of language’ and reflect on the idiosyncrasy of Englishness at a time when its identity is being put to the test.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by  Olga Torrico


Drayton Arms Theatre

The Bald Prima Donna

Drayton Arms Theatre until 8th June


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Baby | ★★ | October 2018
Jake | ★★★ | October 2018
Love, Genius and a Walk | | October 2018
Boujie | ★★★½ | November 2018
Out of Step | ★★ | January 2019
Th’Importance Of Bein’ Earnest | ★★★ | February 2019
The Problem With Fletcher Mott | ★★★ | February 2019
Queer Trilogy | ★★★ | March 2019
Staying Faithful | ★★ | March 2019
Stream | ★★★ | April 2019


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The Lesson – 4 Stars


The Lesson

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 27th September 2018


“The dialogue, in the hands of the accomplished trio of actors, is music (sometimes thrillingly discordant) to the ears throughout”


Written in 1950, Eugene Ionesco’s “The Lesson” has lost none of its strangeness, nor its resonance. It exemplifies what has been coined ‘Theatre of the absurd’ of which Ionesco is master. A powerful three hander it beats to the palpitating rhythm of a macabre merry-go-round upon which the archetypal characters of the Professor, the Pupil and the Maid are fated to ride.

The Maid is busy mopping the floor of the Professor’s study as the audience take their seats. A seemingly innocuous pre-show. For those familiar with the play, I don’t need to state its significance; and for those unfamiliar, I won’t. So let the lesson begin. The Maid fussily withdraws having ushered in the new Pupil. It gets off to a smooth start but it’s not long before the Professor becomes increasingly frustrated with his protégé’s inability to grasp the rudiments of mathematics. Roger Alborough wastes no time establishing his stage presence with a performance that is chillingly playful. But playful in the way a predator teases with its prey.

Sheetal Kapoor is quite extraordinary as the Pupil, transforming from compliant, naïve schoolgirl into a shattered marionette. As her enthusiasm for the lesson deteriorates her toothache increases; clearly a metaphor for her psychological pain. In fact, the whole play is a metaphor, a cautionary tale for today, further exemplified by Joan Potter’s Maid who repeatedly has to clean up the mess. Potter makes the sinister aspects of this play quite palpable with an understated performance pitched with just the right amount of irony. Yes, it’s gruesome but, hey, it’s absurd so it’s okay to laugh.

Donald Watson’s translation is further heightened under Matthew Parker’s slick direction. The dialogue, in the hands of the accomplished trio of actors, is music (sometimes thrillingly discordant) to the ears throughout. Repeated banalities, unshackled illogicality and non sequiturs all compete for air time. Comedy and violence, absurdity and disturbance, mystery and fear all go hand in hand; so the audience’s reactions are varied. While some are laughing, others are recoiling in horror.

The experience is sharpened by the confines of the space. Encased in the round, neither the actors nor the audience have room to escape, and there’s even less room for a fourth wall. Although the cast never address the audience directly we are drawn into the impossible dialogue: there is no barrier between us and them, between reality and fantasy, which intensifies the unnerving quality of the writing. Simon Arrowsmith’s filmic sound design adds the final layer; a gossamer cloak of atmosphere that fits the action perfectly.

Gripping through to the final scene in which the absurdity pours over the action like blood from a knife wound, “The Lesson” has something to teach us all. And this production at the Hope Theatre is, without a doubt, a high-grade lesson in theatre making.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by LH Photography


The Lesson

Hope Theatre until 13th October


Previously reviewed at The Hope:
My Gay Best Friend | ★★★★★ | January 2018
Foul Pages | ★★★ | February 2018
Moments / Empty Beds | ★★★★ | February 2018
My Evolution of the Cave Painting | ★★★★ | February 2018
Our Big Love Story | ★★ | March 2018
Cream Tea & Incest | ★★★★ | April 2018
Adam & Eve | ★★★★ | May 2018
Worth a Flutter | ★★ | May 2018
Cockamamy | ★★★★ | June 2018
Fat Jewels | ★★★★★ | July 2018
Medicine | ★★★ | August 2018
The Dog / The Cat | ★★★★★ | September 2018


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