The Bald Prima Donna @ Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Theatre company Slip of the Lip have brought to the stage a very engaging adaptation of Eugène Ionesco’s play The Bald Prima Donna. With its emphasis on language and communication, and bizarre little stories weaved into the action, this comedy is very entertaining to watch.

The play is set in the living room of Mr and Mrs Smith (Brian Merry and Griselda Williams), a middle-class couple who live in the the suburbs of London. Their mundane chatter is interrupted by their maid Mary (Annie McKenzie), who announces that Mr and Mrs Martin have arrived for dinner, four hours late. The Martins talk to each other like they are strangers, and although they realise they have been married for years, Mary is not convinced. The Captain of the Fire Brigade (Guy Remy) arrives looking for a fire, but instead begins to tell strange stories. In the end of the play, the story goes back to the begin, and the banality of the English suburbs is repeated, just with a different couple.

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Ionesco’s absurdist play is staged very well by director Paul Hoskins. The minimal set is enough to indicate the setting, but not overpowering enough to distract from the language, which is the most important element of the performance. The actors engulf the play’s absurdity effortlessly, which makes the comic elements of the play stand out. As an ensemble, the performers are enjoyable to watch. Peter Easterbrook and Alice Devine stand out as Mr and Mrs Martin respectively. The two bounce off perfectly from each other especially during their first scene together. The repetitive language never once became boring, and actually with each line, the two were even more engaging and comical. They were very enjoyable to watch.

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The show does have a few minor issues, mainly in its technical aspects. The clock sound was sometimes delayed and other sound problems were elevated by the fact that they were during speeches. But this never became problematic enough to distract from the piece. The beginning of the second half of the play also seemed less rehearsed, as at a few points the actors interrupted each other. However, the chaos of the second half of the text allows for these minor issues to blend in with the action on stage, and does not take away from the overall success of the show.

In my opinion Slip of the Lip have successfully created an enjoyable staging of a great play. The cast are great as a team, balancing the comedy with the drama very well, which brings to the stage a very well presented adaptation.

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