The Bald Prima Donna
The Bald Prima Donna
by Eugene Ionesco
The curtain rises on a small, old fashioned, middle class living room. It is a typically English evening at home. Typically English Mr Smith is in his favourite armchair, wearing English slippers, smoking an English pipe and reading an English newspaper. His wife, typically English Mrs Smith is darning English socks. An English clock chimes three English chimes...
Absurd. Fast paced. Farcically funny. Noel Coward meets Fawlty Towers by way of Waiting for Godot!
On a darker note the play exposes the suspicious fear of foreigners in England after the Second World War and it raises the question, that when refugees strive to be accepted by the countries that naturalise them do they eventually take on the characteristics of that country or its people however negative they may be.
|Ridiculously amazing! How very extraordinary!"
by Veronica Lazar for remotegoat on 18/05/16
“An English evening. Mr. Smith, an Englishman, seated in his English armchair and wearing English slippers, is smoking his English pipe and reading his English newspaper, near an English fire... Beside him, in another English armchair, Mrs. Smith, an Englishwoman, is darning some English socks. A long moment of English silence...”
The Bald Prima Donna was the first play written by Romanian-French playwright Eugene Ionesco, a visionary of The Theatre of the Absurd, a type of theatre that explores the human existence caught in the routine of our daily lives, a routine defined by Samuel Beckett as “une grande sourdine” in an eternal expectancy of what Peter Brook identified as Happening.
A rather ridiculous and typical English couple, the Smiths, who lived in a suburb of London, have invited over from Manchester a rather extraordinary and amazing couple, the Martins. Until their arrival, the Smiths go about their banal daily routine of making small talk and taking pleasure in remembering the taste of various common dishes from what it seams like a very English diet. Be reassured that the ridiculous situation is portrayed marvellously by the playwright, but also inherited by the actors (Elliot Robinson and Sarah Widdas), parodying the acquired bourgeoisie manners at the end of the WWII, when the play was written.
The Martins were exquisitely portrayed by Trefor Levins and Julia Knight, which we would welcome to see inheriting the role of Winnie in Happy Days by Samuel Beckett. This couple has no recollection of each other, as they are visibly alienated by their daily “rat race” that transforms them in perfect strangers, although living on the same street, number, flat, bedroom, … “Elizabeth, I've found you again!” is not only a cry of joy, but a cry for help, which also completes a cycle like Yin and Yang, where opposites attract, even for a brief moment. Nevertheless, till that moment of appropriation comes, the behaviour of the humans inheriting this dystopian world is like a broken disc replaying the same song over and over again, without realising the bigger picture, the meaningless of their actions on their own life, where they don't move forward, but only stagnating, exactly like the disc...
Later on, another banal time in the Smiths' day moves the discussion from identifying the best mayonnaise to the impact of a latest migrant with certain skills opening a shop nearby. The case in itself is rather hilarious, as Mr. Popescu Rosenthal (both family names of Romanian-Jewish heritage) has a diploma in yoghurts acquired in the Greek tradition, but produces and sells Romanian yoghurt in London. A rather peculiar situation for somebody of a Jewish origin, which as we know identifies the stereotype with jewellery makers and banks. Nonetheless, the message given by Ionesco is clear: either English society was phobic to the waves of immigration after WWII in Britain, or Mr. Popescu Rosenthal portrayes a simple human being beyond heritage and in this respect British society at that time and not only might have lost touch and understanding for what it takes to be just human.
Indeed, there was no time for this search. I wonder if now we are any better... Most likely this is the question that prompted ACT Brighton to produce this play in the referendum year of 2016.
However, this is not the only dimension of the migrants phobia present in Britain. The other perspective presents the migrants after a period of time, therefore naturalised, but still not having full human rights, as if the house of a foreigner would burn, the firemen were not allowed to put it out, but the foreigner had to do it himself, as the Chief of the Fire Brigade (Ric Stewart) explains. The irony will come from the product of the play, which is another couple with no defined family name yet, as to mirror the insecurity of being in such relationships in those days, made of the Chief of the Fire Brigade and the maid (Fenia Giannopoulou) of foreign origins working for the Smiths. They will aim to inherit the same placid routine of the English couple they've worked for, the Smiths, a type of ending that was chosen by Ionesco, as he “wanted to give a meaning to the play by having it begin all over again with two characters”, only this time the two characters that end the play are not the Martins, as in the script, but the unidentifiable couple, in an original twist added with courage that we embrace by the first time director Sarah Mann.
This is a rare act of courage, hardly seen on the English stage, which usually will abide verbatim to the last preposition used by the playwright, but so welcomed, if we are to have a competitive theatre experience with the continental stage, but also to maintain the theatre as an elitist form of art.
"A Bald Prima Donna" in Sarah Mann's perspective and with top-notch performing from all the actors: Sarah Widdas, Elliot Robinson, Fenia Giannopoulou, Trefor Levins, Julia Knight and Rick Stewart, deserves a sold out run and even a sold out tour. It is hugely entertaining and at the end you want to spend another hour in the company of these characters, no matter how “banal” they are...