BRIDGET WHELAN writer

for writers and readers….

Bowled Over by The Bald Prima Donna in London

Picture Credit: Damian Rayne

It’s good to slip out of the ordinary workaday world, even if you are happy with it, perhaps especially if you’re happy with it, and dive into a new experience. A book can do that for you, a film or an art work, but some thing special happens when it is theatre. The magic is immediate.

I had a taste of that kind of magic a few weeks ago when I saw The Bald Prima Donna in South Kensington. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the playwright Eugene Ionesco was often mentioned alongside Samuel Becket in creating a new kind of theatre which took a slantwise look at life. It had no spiritual meaning, they argued. We’re not part of a grand design. Developed shortly after World War II, it’s not hard to understand the origins of the Theatre of the Absurd, and I suspected that The Bald Prima Donna was going to be dated, high-minded and bleak. It was none of those things.

It was funny, and not in a wry twitching of the mouth way. It makes you laugh. Out loud. For me, it was about the way we talk, but don’t listen. About the strangeness of everyday language that we usually skate across without making a connection, the very thing it’s supposed to do. It’s about the way words feel in the mouth and the strange way they sound when we actually start thinking about them.

The idea for the play came while Ionesco was trying to learn English. An early working title was It’s Raining Cats and Dogs which immediately made me think of La plume de ma tante the phrase that no one in the history of the world has ever needed to learn (in French or any other language). It’s farce and philosophy. It’s a mix of the recognisably mundane (a middle class English couple have friends around for tea) and the deeply bizarre and it’s more than that too.

Picture credit: Lana Burns

I was very fortunate to see a brilliant production. I was mesmerised by one particular actor. I have never seen anyone use their eyes to such compelling effect in the theatre. It happens in television in close up, but I don’t know how Sunil Patel, playing the quintessential Englishman Mr Smith, does it on stage. However, I went with two friends who both raved about the other performances including Penelope Bosworth’s tightly self-controlled Mrs Martin (dressed in high voltage yellow) who seems to have perfect timing in the way some musicians have perfect pitch.

Picture Credit Lana Burns

However, it does seem unfair to single two actors out when the production was a masterclass in ensemble playing. I don’t know how long they rehearsed together but it felt as though they understood – without the need to look – the space everyone was occupying in the way that families can negotiate breakfast a tiny kitchen without bumping into each other. And on the night I saw it not one of the actors broke character and so much as smirked (corsping is the technical term I think), although they must have been sorely tempted. This is a humorous play and the actors know how to do funny.

I mention all this because 5GoTheatre Company are moving the play Camden People’s Theatre in north London from 2nd to 6th July. Some special offers are available if you’re quick, Here’s a link to their facebook page. Or check out the Camden People’s Theatre website.

I would love to know what you think if you know the play, or get to see this production. Slipping out of the ordinary is good for the soul, the spirit or whatever name you give to the creative part of you. It wakes it up, jangles things around. It makes you think new thoughts…

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This entry was posted on June 22, 2019 by in News and tagged , , , , .
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