Created by Marianne Badrichani and The Company, Ionesco/ Dinner at The Smiths’ is a pop-up, immersive and bilingual theatrical experience inspired by the comic works of the Romanian-French playwright Eugene Ionesco. Held by Mr and Mrs Smith, dinner is served at a function room in Latvian House, a sixteen-room bed and breakfast in Queensway, London.
The audience are supplied with a bizarre three-course evening from a most peculiar menu. Seated at a long table, the guests seem dwarfed by high ceilings, tall windows, and oversized red curtains. Pixilated paintings score red wallpaper and jostle a bloated mirror, and artificial candles sit atop a scarlet table runner that races across a white table cloth. 17 strokes of English silence are struck by a clock on the wall that runs backwards: cue Mr and Mrs Smith and a feast of very English absurdities.
Englishness is a delicacy in this smorgasbord of Ionesco’s most notable works, with the most dominant inspiration appearing to be The Bald Soprano, also known as La Cantatrice Chauve (1950), Ionesco’s first play. Al-dente English accents spill from the mouths of the performers as they adopt the playwrights farcical jargon and re-enact tragicomic dramatizations that remark on the foolishness of bourgeois life.
The cast of six characters employ an elbows-on-the-table etiquette at all times, and the Butler (Jorge Laguardia), Mary, the Maid (Sharlit Deyzac), Mrs Smith (Lucy Russell), Mr Smith (Sean Rees), Mr Martin (David Mildon), and Mrs Martin (Edith Vernes), guide the audience through extraordinarily ordinary stories with a French-English translation.
The arrival of a blindfolded inter-course provided a further escape from social convention. Whispers of French nothings were accompanied by a sudden breeze that tickled the nape, and breathy murmurs of “Ma chatte, ma chatelaine”, “chat, chat, chat, chat”, “champagne”, and “chalets” could be heard amidst a pandemonium of sensual outbursts.
A highlight of the evening was a curious, bizarre, and coincidental exchange between Mr and Mrs Martin, who, despite being married, could not recall meeting one another. Mildon and Vernes performed consistently well throughout, providing well-timed comic effect with wide eyes and guppy-lips. Another stand-out moment belonged to Jorge Laguardia as the Spanish Fire Chief in his recounting of a man who could not pronounce the letter ‘f’… except that he could pronounce the letter ‘f’.
One hour and fifty-minutes of action were devoured by performers and guests alike, and so when the abrupt ending came, the banquet was over all too quickly. There could have easily been another course (a post-dessert refreshment perhaps?) to allow the performance to fully digest, as well as for the guests to be completely satiated. This left a slight temptation to make like Oliver Twist and approach the Director (Badrichani), who had observed the performance from a corner of the dining room and say “Please [sir] I want some more”.
Alas, the audience took their coats – some more reluctant than others – and re-joined the bitter March evening from 72 Queensborough Terrace. Squeals of delight could be heard in both French and English from the crowd, but if you listened very closely, grumbling sounds could be heard coming from the theatrical stomachs of spectators who had not been fully satisfied.
Ionesco/Dinner at The Smith’s is playing at Latvian House until 01 April. For more information and tickets, see designmynight.com