Review: The Bald Primadonna

SOPHIE BAUER thinks ‘for those experimental theatre devotees amongst you it may well be worth taking a hit of the Playroom’s latest offering.’

Absurdist Amrou Al-Kadhi Corpus Playrooms Francesca Warner

Corpus Playroom, 23rd – 27th February 2010, 9.30pm, £4-6

Directed by Amrou Al-Kadhi and Francesca Warner.


It was Tuesday night Week 6. My heart was bleak; the end of term was stretching before me like an implausibly long yawn. Amidst such middle class melancholy I trundled to the Corpus Playroom; the sleet ridden drizzle adding to the dour atmosphere. Surely some absurdist amateur dramatics would soothe my soul? Perhaps a host of antagonising characters were just what I needed? The Corpus Freshers’ show was a peculiar one, but not without its virtues.

A play that “places characters in repetitive and often quite tragic situations to draw attention to the hopelessness of life” may not be your cup of tea. However, for those experimental theatre devotees amongst you it may well be worth taking a hit of the Playroom’s latest offering.

The problem wasn’t the production or the performances, but rather the genre itself. Absurdist plays seem to deliberately prod and poke you, appear to be relentless in a migraine inducing kind of way. They create a fraught, though sometimes very funny, atmosphere into which they mercilessly drag the audience.

At times then, the production seemed to lose momentum and its cheeky, frenetic tone was not always appreciated. Eugene Ionesco’s world is one of awkward smiles, huge teapots and homicidal thoughts beneath a veneer of suburban splendour: it was on the whole a good production and a brave choice. There were moments though when it dragged like a midweek Russian grammar and syntax lecture.

Each of the performers however did a great job, and some were even at times brilliant. John-Mark Allen’s Mr Smith was a fantastic blend of dry, deadpan comments and Hugh Laurie hyperactivity. Isabella Baynham-Herd (as his wife, Mrs Smith) was a humorous amalgamation of the dippy, murderous, sexual and downright bonkers. It was good to see that Pierre Novellie’s host of facial expressions and eyebrow wiggling were put to good use, his performance as Mr Martin one of the most enjoyable.

Jeremy Evans donned a fetching dress and faux-female voice for the part. His attire formed the bulk of his character’s humour though he did deliver some good one liners that added to this ‘mad hatter tea party’.

Finally, Leah Betts made a suitably coquettish maid and Andrew Holland gave a sound performance as the calendar-inspired fireman.The latter were the two less random characters, occasionally verging on the bland, but amidst the…absurdness, this was at times as welcome and soothing as a Nurofen plus.

So in other words: The performances are definitely worth a look in, though side effects may include headache, dismemberment and a general reaction of “Whaaaaaaaaaat?”