The Old Red Lion Theatre is all sparkles and tinsel this Christmas but all is not quite as it seems, for upstairs The Bald Prima Donna by Eugene Ionesco receives a sinister festive makeover this December. Presented by Tarquin Productions this is not your usual festive fair but it is a well worthwhile trip into mayhem.
The design for the space is wonderful. Jacob Hughes gives us a very simple but effective (and festive) bunker. Inside here things might be falling apart and disintegrating but outside it is burning. In a world that’s already so crazy, a bunker full of slightly hysterical adults dressed up in fancy dress is perhaps as hyper-naturalistic as an ‘English drawing room’ owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
The Bald Prima Donna is of course an energetic and absurd script and this interpretation doesn't forget the silly among the sinister. It is a clever re-imagining of the world of the original script that doesn't interfere with the original and it gives an edge to the words of the characters as they slip into nonsense. For instance, the ‘extraordinary coincidence’ sequence by Mr. and Mrs. Martin is given a distinctly tragic edge that injects new meaning to the classic text.
This was very much an ensemble performance, and the actors all played off each other’s pain and madness. This is likely to be the last Christmas for everyone and that isn’t far from anyone’s mind in spite of the fairy lights and tinsel. Benji Sperring’s direction never lets us forget that there is something outside this bunker worse than the madness inside.
Certain sequences of the play might seem perhaps at times too frenetic, with the subtlety of the language lost in hysterics, but really, if ever there was a time for hysteria it’s when the horsemen arrive on reindeer. So get booking! The Christmas Apocalypse is here and you’d better watch out!