Ionesco Double Bill: The Bald Prima Donna and Jacques

Eugène Ionesco is not a playwright I had come across before I saw a double bill of his work at the Network Theatre, a small space underneath Waterloo Station. A Romanian by birth (he was born Eugen Ionescu), he wrote mostly in French and lived much of his life in France. He was one of the foremost figures of the French avant-garde theatre scene, and his work has been described as belonging to the “theatre of the absurd”.

The first play performed was The Bald Prima Donna, sometimes translated as The Bald Soprano. This bizarre tale involved an ordinary suburban couple from London making conversation, inviting another couple over for a visit, and interacting with their maid and the local fire chief. It was exceptionally odd, with ordinary remarks passed off as surprising and the most unusual happenings seen as perfectly ordinary. It was a bit repetitive at times, and overall it was a bit weird even for me, but I did enjoy the absurdity and much of the play was very funny.

The second play, Jacques, also known as The Submission, wasn’t quite as good as the first but had the same kind of bizarre and absurd atmosphere. The surreal play involved Jacques’ arranged marriage to Roberta and later Roberta II, who ends up with three noses (!).

Directed by Paul Hoskins and Nigel Williams, the plays were exceptionally well acted by a hugely talented cast – particularly impressive considering that this is an amateur theatre. The cast drew every ounce of absurdity and humour out of the plays, turning what could have been a slightly tedious evening into a very funny one.

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