Tag Archives: Eugene Ionesco

Stuff and Nonsense

THE BALD PRIMA DONNA

Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 13th February, 2018

 

Eugene Ionesco’s work is a staple of any self-respecting Drama course, but the Romanian-French playwright is hardly a household name.  Which is a pity, considering the influence his absurdist style had on the works of Monty Python and the like.  In fact, much of what we find in Ionesco is now deemed ‘Pythonesque’.   Ionesco holds up social convention as something bizarre.  His dialogue is full of nonsense and non sequiturs, repetitions and random outpourings – and this play is a prime example.

Mrs Smith (Emma Beasley) enthuses about lunch while her husband (Thomas Hodge) tuts and grunts behind a newspaper.  She declares her affinity for all things English – including mayonnaise.  Hearing such remarks in today’s England, I can’t help finding resonance with the nonsense of the Brexit vote.  Almost everything we consume is imported from elsewhere.  The play is vibrant with significance, it turns out.

Mr and Mrs Martin (Tom Purchase-Rathbone and India Willes) arrives late for dinner and are admonished.  This couple struggle to recollect the circumstances of their acquaintance – even though it transpires they travel on the same train, live in the same street, the same flat, it turns out they are not who they think they are… This is a puzzling little sketch, beautifully performed by the pair, and expertly built to a crescendo by director Steve Farr.

The Maid (Claire Bradwell) is the only character to address us directly, breaking the frame, and is the most artificial of the bunch, flipping from hysterical laughter to wracking sobs in a flash.  Bradwell radiates impudence and fun, to the exasperation of the waspish Emma Beasley and the boorish Tom Purchase-Rathbone.  The company is completed by Barry Purchase-Rathbone’s Fire Chief, who is touting for business.  He regales the group with rambling, pointless anecdotes and impenetrable fables, and his deadpan delivery is hilarious.

The whole group play things dead straight and speak what can be meaningless strings of words with conviction, and so the dialogue sounds as though we ought to understand it.  Scenes are broken up and interrupted by a lighting change and the chimes of a clock, during which the characters tip back their heads, close their eyes and open their mouths, before getting on with their lives.  These interludes symbolise how our lives are governed by time, by natural processes, by convention.  Above all, these surreal episodes remind us what we are watching is stylised and artificial – just as the manners and etiquette of society are stylised and artificial.

Repetition of phrases, that become slogans, does not imbue them with meaning.  And so, “She’s a true blue Englishwoman” spoken in a loop reminds me of “Brexit means Brexit”.  Vague remarks about British decency and fair play are bandied around as if there is consensus on what these things are, or that they exist.  The play ends as it began, with the opening lines of dialogue, except the Smiths have been usurped by the Martins, who now refer to themselves as the Smiths, and on the nonsense goes…

On the surface, this is a very funny production of a difficult script, with an excellent cast breathing life and emotion into nonsense.  Beneath the surface, the play couldn’t be timelier as a snapshot of the nonsense of living in Britain today.

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Body of Evidence

Amédée

Birmingham REP, Tuesday 28th February, 2017

 

Eugene Ionesco’s absurd play from 1954 gets an update in this adaptation from Sean Foley, with topical references like ‘zero hours’ and ‘will of the people’.  It remains, however, curiously old-fashioned.  Like an extended skit, it brings us the story of Amédée, a failed playwright, and his wife Madeleine, a switchboard operator.  It emerges that these two are housebound, imprisoned by a secret they have shared for fifteen years.  The nature of that secret is revealed to us in glimpses: there is a dead body in their bedroom and it is growing, taking over the tiny flat.  The corpse brings with it an infestation of mushrooms and, of course, puts increasing strain on the marriage.  Nothing is fully explained; it is left to us to piece together what sense we can from the crumbs thrown our way.  What is clear is the toll the situation is taking on the couple – the stresses of being full-time carers, the guilt of a murder concealed…

I warm to Trevor Fox as the self-centred, ‘suffering’ writer, while Josie Lawrence’s long-suffering Madeleine makes an impact from the off.  The pair fire barbs at each other and sometimes expose their suffering.  Absurd though the situation may be, the emotions expressed – and the black humour – come across as authentic.  There are hints of a dark world outside their window, adding to the claustrophobia.

Director Roxana Silbert cranks up the pace, adding to the comic delivery.  Ti Green’s set shows a kind of ordered clutter – the ever-growing body is as hilarious as the sprouting mushrooms are sinister.  Dyfan Jones’s sound design complements the weirder moments and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting washes the action in dramatic hues.

In the final scene, with the secret/corpse out in the open, Amédée finds a great weight has been lifted, and the anchor that has tethered him to his wife and to mundane matters is no longer keeping him down…

Funny, to be sure, intriguing – in places – the production reminds us how much British comedy owes to European influences.  Ionesco was Romanian but his work shows the sparks that lit the flame for the likes of Monty Python, Reeves and Mortimer, and The League of Gentlemen.

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Up against it: Josie Lawrence and Trevor Fox (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)