Ionesco/Dinner at the Smiths’ (Latvian House)

Posted: March 5, 2017 in Theatre

titleThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:


The absurdist works of Eugène Ionesco are so unconventional that they could feel out of place on a regular stage in front of an audience seated in rows. Perhaps with this in mind, Marianne Badrichani comes up with the not-so-absurd idea of performing them at an elegant dinner party with the audience becoming diners sitting around a long table, sipping glasses of French wine.

The Romanian-born French writer had his hey days in the middle of the 20th century, but his plays are seen less often today. Adapting extracts from the plays, along with Edith Vernes, Badrichani fuses Ionesco’s writing with a peculiarly English strain of upper class eccentricity and it proves to be a match made in Heaven. We are ushered in by a camp butler (Jorge Lagardia) and a saucy maid (Sharlit Deyzac), both looking as if straight out of a Feydeau farce and our hosts, the Smiths, take their places at opposite ends of the table. Mr Smith (Sean Rees) displays his “typically English” thin moustache, exudes smoke and reads the Daily Mail; his refined and graceful wife (Lucy Russell) argues with him from a considerable distance. The main guests, the Martins (David Mildon and Vernes) are late.

The evening plays like a mash-up of Ionesco’s greatest hits: the family whose members are all named Bobby Watson; the strangers who meet and discover that they are married to each other; the Spanish fire chief (Lagardia) who has a problem with the letter “f”. Each segment seems like a sketch in a revue and perhaps we have seen them all before and know the punchlines well, but this is definitely a case of familiarity breeding contentment. The six actors tune in perfectly to the ridiculousness of their characters and give us an absurdly enjoyable evening.

The surreal nature of the event is heightened in a sequence during which diners are blindfolded and Ionesco himself (Rees) appears in two brief sequences, answering questions (in French) about his works. However, this show is overwhelmingly about comedy and Badrichani’s concept spotlights how absurdism is prominent in British humour, seen in The Goon Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and so on. The big surprise comes at the end when we remind ourselves that Ionesco was, in fact, French.

Performance date: 4 March 2017


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