first night

The Bald Prima Donna

Grace Cheatle values not quite understanding the play

  To attempt to produce any form of Absurdist drama is a bold move, and Ionesco's The Bald Prima Donna is perhaps one of the most challenging. Adapted from French, there was the worry that the satirical subtleties of the humour inferred by Ionesco would be 'lost in translation'. Fortunately, A Tree in a Teacup Theatre Company dispel this concern instantly.

Rebecca Wallbank's portrayal of Mrs Smith is outstanding. A perfect balance of absurdity and naturalism makes her compelling to watch from the outset, and her ability to make a three minute monologue concerning mayonnaise anything other than utterly mind-numbing was remarkable. Lyle Bush encapsulates the grumpy old man stereotype with ease, though there are moments when his words and actions get slightly lost amidst a mad frenzy of story-telling. However, they achieved a decidedly comic effect that serves to heighten the bizarre atmosphere even further.

The breaking the fourth wall with the kissing of an audience's hand is peculiar, but it works to break the occasional monotony of the script. Once more, director Matt Robinson confuses the audience as much as he entertains them. The seemingly random interjections of Will Tyson's clock are always amusing, with his stoic manner implying that this is a play of absolute seriousness, an honest depiction of the life of the English. Such conviction is displayed by all cast members in a wonderful ensemble performance where our reality is suspended, and theirs of the utterly nonsensical is taken to be true.

Henry Yorke as the Fire Chief is charming. His innocence is endearing and his emotional stability contrasts well with the wonderfully ludicrous mood swings of other characters. The whole cast are able to raise the level of energy simultaneously and work well in their ability to maintain such hysteria, and for this they really must all be commended. The shift into oddly physical theatre at the closing of the play is, to my mind, a little out of place; still, it was enjoyed by the audience and certainly creates a memorable end to a confounding play.

Honestly, to quote Connie Byrne-Shore's splendidly vacant Mrs Martin, 'I don't think I quite got the point of the story', but then if I had, Ionesco's whole premise would have been disregarded. It's a compliment to Robinson and Wallbank that their production is able to effortlessly meld the hilarious with the ridiculous, leaving the audience as bewildered as a fire chief searching for a fire.

* * *


Grace Cheatle

8 December 2011

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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