The Bald Soprano is an absurdist play by Eugène Ionesco, first performed in French in 1950, consisting of meaningless banter and nonsensical truisms – probably drawn from an English primer – and holds the world record for the play that has been staged continuously in the same theatre for the longest time.
The play opens to an English couple, Mr Smith (Alex Burke) and Mrs Smith (Solenna le Goff), sat in their living room engaging in small talk about what they ate for dinner. Their conversation quickly turns to an almost incomprehensible discussion about Bobby Watson, who it transpires was the name of several people all at once: a man; his wife; their children; and most other members of their extended families. Their maid, Mary (Tsen Day-Beaver), enters to announce their guests have arrived for dinner and they depart to get changed.
Mary greets their friends, Mr Martin (Dominic Davies) and Mrs Martin (Lizzy Paes), who spend some time trying to remember who the other is and whether in fact they know each other despite living in the same house, until Mary confides to the audience that the couple are not married after all but should go on as before.
When the Smiths return, unchanged, the Fire Chief (James Weatherley-Buss) arrives although there is no fire, and we discover that he and Mary were lovers. He shares some meaningless fables until the Smiths promise to call him if there is a fire. After his departure, the Smiths and Martins begin shouting nonsense at each other. The lights go out before rising again on the Smiths reciting the lines from the beginning of the play before the curtain closes on this continual loop.
Magpie Theatre’s choice of play is somewhat inspired given it is accompanied by a pandemic, a stalled US election, and live performances can only be online. To confuse the mix even further they have cleverly introduced an ensemble consisting of an alternate Mr Smith (George Parsons), Mrs Smith (Shannon Flynn), Mr Martin (Alex Webber-Date), and Mrs Martin (Hannah Kelly), who appear ad-hoc in lieu of the ‘originals’ before crashing the closing scenes to deliver, in stereo, the series of complete non-sequiturs which bear no resemblance to normal conversation.
Zoom can offer its own absurd challenges but producer Jack Gloyens has it all down to a tee with each part perfectly dove-tailed to its other which is some feat for a play wholly reliant on the rapid interplay of its dialogue even when it makes little sense. In turn, director David Jones pays homage at the end to the original production with an added twist of bringing the lights up on the ensemble Smiths rather than the Martins. Touché.
The cast perform admirably with period perfect costume and clipped accents, with special mention to Burke and le Goff for their recounting of the Bobby Watson tale, as well as to Davies and Paes for their discussion about whether they know each other: these are both highly technical exchanges, capable of tripping up many an actor, that tonight were delivered with full aplomb. Bravo.
Why is the play called the Bald Soprano? Well, why shouldn’t it be? How do you review something that is completely illogical? Well, for the very reason that whilst everything right now tells you the show mustn’t go on, this one did. And it was rather fun too – especially all the bits that didn’t make any sense. Yes, that would be all of it.
Magpie Theatre are a Liverpool based theatre company.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 6th November 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★