Production: The Bald Prima Donna
Venue: The Drama Barn
As student performances go, the standard of acting at the Drama Barn is always high, and this week’s piece, Eugene Ionesco’s nonsensical Bald Prima Donna, is no exception. Lonesco’s very first short play, originally preformed in 1950 and in only one act, is nevertheless a hard act to follow. Lonesco’s pataphysical play set in middle class suburbia invites the audience into the home of the aptly named Smiths for an evening’s entertainment with their guests the Martins. Where everyday experience is transformed into expression, by making their banal dialogue both senseless and surreal.
On stage the tricolor of white, red and blue furniture not only references the plays French origins but also serves to reflect one of the major themes of the play, Britishness and great British eccentricity. Voiced through the ‘Oxford accent’ scores of Archers fans would be proud of, Mrs. Smith aptly indicates changes in scene. In the intimate space of the Drama barn we are literally transported into the Smith’s front room which takes up almost the entire place. The actors make full use of the set moving in, around and even over the furniture, posing to reflect on the silliest of contemplations and notions.
All the cast deliver dynamic performances, especially an interesting awkward intensity that exists between the two couples. The strongest scenes being those involving these core four. The comic timing, of both the whimsical Mrs. Smith and wistful Martins is particularly good, frequently getting bursts of laughter from a receptive audience. Members of the cast, including the excitable maid Mary, are often carried out of a scene which is particularly consistent with the farcical nature of the play.
The ‘nonsense scene’ is the climax of the play. Where all four main characters spring off on to individual tangents posing questions, uttering axioms and announcing the most obvious statements. But the addition of a more reflective last scene, a repetition of the first, is effective in making social commentary on the uniformity of conventional middle class suburbia, as well as reflecting the recurrent theme of repetition.
It sometimes seems a difficult script for the cast to get to grips with, but is overall well articulated, making for some classic comedic moments. Moments solely reliant on the actor’s sense of timing and ability to deliver the surreal lines as naturally as possible in order to effectively communicate the moments of humour found throughout the play. The roles of Mrs. Smith and Mr. Martin are parts played with absolute conviction, and sufficient seriousness, something which Lonesco believed made for the best performances of this play. The childlike characters come across as sincere and on the whole the well executed one liners are worth the 20 minute interval in the cold.