The Bald Prima Donna – Upstairs at the Gatehouse – Review

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Eugene Ionesco’s works are seldom on in the capital unfortunately. The Bald Prima Donna, is his earliest work and Slip of The Lip present this quirky and fun piece of theatrical absurdity with a minimalistic set and Ionesco’s nonsensical dialogue flowing thick and fast.

The Martin’s have popped over to the Smith’s who live in a comfortable London suburb, one Friday night. What unfolds is not your usual naturalistic play, but rather a pertinent observation on the vacuous nonsense most of us spend our time talking about! Therein lies the inherent humour of the piece and there were plenty of moments where we chuckled and laughed out loud at the absurdity presented before us. Whilst acknowledging to ourselves that we too probably sound like this sometimes.

The cast of six throw themselves into Ionesco's strange world with great abandon,

The cast of six throw themselves into Ionesco’s strange world with great abandon,

Peter Eastbrook as Mr Martin had a wonderfully deadpan delivery of his lines which only heightened the humour. Perhaps the most obtuse and crazy lines are delivered by the Fireman portrayed with a wonderful nervousness by Guy Remy. Alice Devine is a feisty Mrs Martin and Griselda Williams being the mumsy linchpin of the piece. Brian Merry brings a brooding menace to Mr Smith. Annie McKenzie rounds off the cast with an exuberant performance as the maid Mary.

Paul Hoskins direction allows the surreal world of the play to be brought to life and he allows the script to draw us in I’m pleased to say. This is not an easy play to perform as the fluidity of script and thought means the actors have to be concentrating constantly. They ably threw themselves into Ionesco’s strange world. Yet they also used it as a mirror to our own world and the repetitive speech patterns we all use and the awkward silences that permeate conversations.

As it is his first play, it lacks some of the refinement of Ionesco’s later works. It’s not his best piece but is an enjoyable romp through our incongruous world of speech and miscommunication. Theatre of the Absurd is often seen as a niche of the theatre world, but I find Ionesco’s work much more accessible than most of Beckett’s so don’t be put of if you’re unsure what to expect. I was pleased to finally get to see a production of this rarely performed piece.

STARS : ★ ★ ★


16 Ways To Go To The Theatre And Not Pay Full Price


Theatre can be an expensive hobby. Just the other week the average West End theatre ticket was confirmed to be £47. With the average price paid for a ticket being £37.97

I go on average once a week and I’ve found various ways that I regularly use to make sure I can get good tickets but at cheaper prices. So what is my average ticket price? I dug out my tickets and calculator and over the first 6 months of this year my average was £19.20. admittedly not all of the shows I see are West End but a large proportion are, probably 70% of theatre I see is in West End/National Theatre or Royal Court.

Here’s how I achieve this :

1) If you’re in London go to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, this is the official half price ticket booth and offers tickets for most of the West End shows. It has a website too that you can reference prior to coming into London. I primarily use this as my source for tickets. They have also recently started a loyalty card where you get £3 off once you’ve bought 6 tickets. You can book tickets not just on the day but up to 7 days in advance. I wrote a post on TKTS recently and it can be read here.

For great value tickets for West End shows, head here.

2) Visit the National Theatre’s Travelex SeasonThe National Theatre is I think the best theatre in the world. They have several productions a year which are part of the Travelex season. For this you can get tickets for £12 in good seats. This is a bargain and a great way to see world-class theatre for a brilliant price. This year in the Travelex scheme are, Antigone, Timon of Athens, London Road. I honestly think this is the best value theatre ticket available.

3) This is perhaps a cheeky tip but here it is nonetheless – DO NOT BUY from they charge exorbitant “booking fees” PER TICKET. In fact their booking fees can sometimes equal the total ticket price of other shows!

Avoid like the proverbial plague

4) Visit your local amateur theatre. I can hear the gasps now “oh no, not am dram”, but take my word for it, you may be pleasantly surprised. A friend of mine took my tip and saw his local amateur theatre group and now goes regularly to see them, he felt the standard was better than some pros he’s seen. Many people involved in amateur theatres are professionally trained but for numerous reasons (often not because they failed as pros I hasten to add), they perform as amateurs. For example the amateur theatre I’m involved in The Miller Centre Theatre at every level has professionally trained people involved in its productions. The Little Theatre Guild website will point you in the right direction for one near you. Ticket prices are a bargain (£5 – £15 typically), and you’ll see a wide range of theatre too, yes, some will do the classics but some do more modern works, The Archway Theatre in Horely I saw do Patrick Marber’s Closer and will be doing Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis in September. So check out your local group, you may be surprised!

5)  Get on mailing lists. Most theatres have an email list, get on it, because they often email those on it with very good deals. Time Out have an email list and I’ve used offers they’ve had on a few occasions too.

6) Check the Evening Standard newspaper (if you’re in London) as it frequently has offers in it. It’s a free paper and so it’s a no brainer to flick through and see if they have any offers.

7) Get on Twitter. I was a late comer to Twitter, only joining a few months ago, (@theatrethought if you want to add me)  and I have to say I wish I’d joined it earlier as there are deals flying about all over it. Facebook is similar but I’ve found Twitter to have more on it. @tkts, @bargaintheatre, @theatre_direct, @cheaptheatretix are all ones either I’ve got a bargain from or know friends that have.

8) Become a “Friend” or patron of a theatre/theatre company. Often theatres and theatre companies give a discount to those that support them. obviously there is an outlay of cost but it can work out more cost-effective. I was a Friend of the Royal Court, this meant I paid them £25 a year and I then got advance booking on their coming season. This meant I could book tickets to a Monday night showing for all their season and pay only £10 a ticket. (the Monday nights sell out notoriously fast due to all seats being £10) This was a great way of seeing their entire season at a very reasonable cost. I’ve not renewed this as I’ve not go the capacity to see all their productions over the next 6-9 months. I’ll certainly renew it in the future though. Check out what your local (or favourite) theatres offer.

9) Ask for Theatre Tokens for your birthdays and Christmas etc. This is an easy gift for people to get me, I can then pool them together and then for shows I can’t get a discount for I can either use them towards the cost or pay for the entire show. I used my Xmas vouchers to pay for Top Hat’s opening night earlier this year. Good news is that the TKTS booth also accept these so in previous years, I’ve got several shows out of the tokens given to me over one birthday.

These make the best present for me.

10) Go to previews. Preview tickets can sometimes be a good way to see a show but at a reduction. Sometimes it is a risk because a preview can mean the show is still a bit ropey or needs work, but I’ve seen a lot of previews and have to say usually they’re pretty slick. I got preview tickets to see Betty Blue Eyes for only £10 last year.

11) Sit in the balcony. This can be a gamble but it can also really pay off. Firstly quite a few of theatres balconies don’t have a too bad view. I saw Love Never Dies from the back row of the Adelphi’s balcony and thought the view was great. I do take a pair of binoculars when in the balcony, as it’s nice to be able to “zoom” in if I need to, but often I don’t use them. One balcony to avoid is the Palace Theatre in West End it’s AWFUL. Often if you book a midweek performance in a balcony they’ll shut the balcony and you get an upgrade to Circle or Stalls. I had this only the other week, you can’t guarantee it, but it’s nice when it happens. some theatres have standing areas this may well also be worth doing if you’re fit and healthy. Sites like and can give you some tips and people’s experiences of where they’ve sat. Also check out my Seats Where I’ve Sat page, this is populated after every production I see.

12) Shop around. It’s surprising what deals can be found online. is a site I’ve used regularly. (they also have 48hr sales that can be a real bargain too). Shows in London are another site that offer good deals on some shows.

13) Go to the box office direct. This way you don’t pay a booking fee and I’ve occasionally got deals or upgrades on seats by using the box office in person.

14) See if the theatre offers discounts on multiple buys. When I lived in Bath the Theatre Royal there did a deal where the more tickets you bought the greater discount you got. I remember spending about £400 in one shot (yikes), but that gave me about  25% discount on each ticket. It also set me up with lots of trips over the coming year. If memory serves me right I think it meant I could see almost all of their season.

15) Try out Fringe theatres. You can often see intimate and exciting productions in the fringe venues. I’m off to Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Northgate in a couple of weeks to catch Volpone for example. Ticket price = £12.

16) Get a group together. Most theatres offer significant discounts if groups of 10+ go. If lots of your friends want to see the same show, go as a group.

As I discover/use more I’ll add them to this list, if you have any others please add a comment and I’ll add it to the list.

Happy bargain ticket hunting!