Quantum Physics, synchronicity, English mustachios, it has to be Eugene Ionesco’s ‘The Bald Soprano’ (La Cantatrice Chauve). This is a play for which context is essential: Beckett’s growing reputation in France at the beginning of the 1950’s. The efforts of dramatists who became known as the ‘theatre of the absurd’ to acknowledge the horrors of fascism. The birth of post-modernism with it’s portrayal of the fragmentary nature of subjective reality. And Ionesco’s own inspiration – bizarrely banal English language learning tapes. In attempting to recreate the imaginative truth of these unheimlich lessons, Ionesco engaged with some of the most complex intellectual problems of his time.
The play begins as a parody of urbane English parlour comedies, spearing every convention from obtuse bon-mots to farcical misunderstandings, from trite social commentary to ironic contradictions. Out of this meta-humour, brilliantly trivialising the trivial, develops a slow horror, as identities dissolve, time disappears, life and death become confused and disorder reins.
The Bald Soprano was Ionesco’s first play, originally written in his native Romanian, before being rewritten in French. Since it’s first performance on May 11th 1950, the play has become one of the most performed works in France. We read the 1964 translation by Donal M. Allan.
Download: Episode 9 – The Bald Soprano
‘Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.