This utterly bewildering anti- play by Eugene Ionesco is given a lively production but it feels increasingly muddled as the cast try and keep up with the twists and turns in the language it uses.
How do you write a review about something that you can’t quite understand yourself? This is the conundrum that I’m finding myself in as I sit here at my desk trying to make sense of Eugene Ionesco’s utterly bewildering play.
Set in a London borough in the home of the typically English Mr and Mrs Smith, the play sees their typically English evening disturbed with the arrival of the Martins and Fire Chief to tell numerous stories – stories that grow increasingly bizarre. There is no purpose or reason behind why these characters find themselves in the same room as each other, which in turn makes it extremely difficult to engage with what is unfolding, particularly during the more repetitive moments.
While it is clear that Ionesco wanted to focus on playing havoc with the English language as well as how people’s thought processes can change at any moment, the absurdness of it all in this play can make for quite wearying viewing.
It is a real shame that the piece is so frustrating because this is a production which does well with the material in some respects. Julie Drake’s production offers a lively interpretation, making full use of the dialogue that captures the unique way that language can be used and transformed to convey so many different meanings. It has a great energy and pace about it that highlights the increasing chaos, which the cast is able to keep up with impressively.
The production also has some comical moments – particularly when Mr Smith (Sunil Patel) offers a mimed rendition of the story he wants to tell or the door bell issue that is nicely presented. However, it does feel as though it is a production that takes some time to settle down, with the opening moments and dialogue feeling slightly too stilted to set the scene effectively.
There are some nice performances from the cast including Sunil Patel’s intense and slightly sinister Mr Smith and Leena Makoff as Mary the Maid offers a committed and passionate performance. Elsewhere, Penelope Bosworth as Mrs Martin offers some lovely mannerisms that match the quirkiness of the character perfectly.
Overall, while the purpose of the play seems to be to just go with the flow and not try to make sense of it, it feels a waste of the talent involved with this production. A lively production of a frustrating piece of work.
By Emma Clarendon
The Bald Prima Donna continues to play at the Camden People’s Theatre until the 6th July.