The Duck House – November 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Dan Patterson and Colin Swash

Directed by Terry Johnson

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud

Date: Friday 1st November 2013

This was cracking fun. We had a good view of the performance from our seats to the right of the auditorium, despite being warned that our sightline might be obscured in some way during one scene, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Although most of the topical references related to the expenses scandal, they didn’t seem out of date at all (sadly) and some of the other quips were very funny – references to getting a lift home from Chris Huhne, for example. I won’t give away too much, but the funniest gag for me came early on, when the Labour politician Robert Houston (Ben Miller) was filing away his receipts for a future expense claim. One box was getting a bit full, so he used another location which was a bit unexpected, and very funny.

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Seven Year Twitch – June 2013

Experience: 8/10

Written and directed by David Lewis

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Tuesday 4th June 2013

This is a new play, written and directed by David Lewis, and the blend of personal issues, therapy sessions and twitching created a very funny production. The story was told initially through these therapy sessions, with parts of the earlier action acted out in front of us and the relevant therapist. Later, as the relationships became more jumbled, the action flowed from one confrontation to another with frequent changes of location.

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Four Farces – May 2013

Experience: 6/10

By – see below

Directed by Jonathan Kemp

Company: European Arts Company

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 8th May 2013

This was a good collection of one-act farces by Victorian writers. We’d seen one of them before – A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion – and being a Gilbert and Sullivan fan I was very keen to see Box And Cox, the basis for Sullivan and FC Burnand’s light opera Cox And Box. The cast was limited to three actors – Richard Latham, John O’Connor and Asta Parry – so the farces had been selected with that limitation in mind, and it was good fun to see the actors take a variety of roles throughout the evening.

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Sauce For The Goose – January 2013

Experience: 8/10
By Georges Feydeau, translated by Peter Meyer

Directed by Sam Walters

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 3rd January 2013

This was an entertaining start to the year’s theatre-going. I wasn’t sure how well a farce like this would work in the round, and although the constant doorway miming got a little tedious at times, it did the job reasonably well and even allowed for some extra humour, mostly between the acts. The cast did a good job, as usual, and despite the slightly excessive number of characters and the complicated plot, they told the story well and got a good deal of humour out of the play.

The set was fairly complicated as well, transforming itself twice into three different locations. For the first act, the Vatelin’s flat was decorated in gaudy colours, with a crudely painted ‘carpet’ in the middle of the floor, a fake fireplace on the left wall, the effects desk by the left entranceway, and a long pouf along the far left side with a regular pouf close by. A table with two chairs stood against the far right wall; from the veneer pattern painted on it, it was a folding table. On the right side stood a sofa, coffee table and armchair. The furniture was as crudely painted as the carpet, and the whole effect was both garish and modern, or at least modern for its time.

The second act was located in a hotel room; this was soon produced by rearranging the furniture and providing some extra dressing. The sofa, poufs and coffee table became a bed against the far right wall, the fireplace was moved round to the far left wall, the table was realigned (it did fold after all) and moved across to the left side, while a bedside table and some bedclothes completed the scene. There were also some nick-knacks and a trunk belonging to the current occupant of the room, but she soon moved out to make way for all the fun and games. Farce being what it is -there were lots of clothes and bags distributed around the room by the end of the act – it took a fair chunk of the interval to change everything round to Redillon’s flat for the final act. The furniture was much the same as for the first act, but with a different layout.

The plot revolved around Pontagnac (David Antrobus) and his obsession with chasing other men’s wives. This time he’s followed home Lucienne, who happens to be the wife of one of Pontagnac’s friends, Vatelin. When Lucienne complains to her husband that a man has been following her, Vatelin is shocked and denounces such behaviour as disgraceful; it’s a different matter when he learns that the man in question is Pontagnac, his friend, and Vatelin soon loses his outrage which doesn’t please Lucienne.

We soon discover that Lucienne has every intention of staying faithful to her husband, provided he doesn’t stray himself; if he does, she’ll be in another’s arms in a trice, and she knows just the man to help her out – Redillon. He hangs around their house all the time, desperate for an affair with Lucienne, but she holds him off resolutely. Things change when a German lady, Heidi, pays a visit to Vatelin and we find out that what happened in Germany was meant to stay in Germany, but hasn’t! Various twists and turns later, there’s quite a party going on at the hotel Ultimo, with all the characters we’ve already met plus a few new ones waltzing in and out of room 13, much to our amusement.

The final act provides Redillon with his long-wished-for opportunity to enjoy Lucienne’s delights, and there’s even another wife keen to get revenge on her unfaithful husband – Madame de Pontagnac. But sadly, a night spent with a beautiful prostitute, Armandine, has left Redillon with a temporary shortfall in the loving department. With Lucienne overhearing (by Redillon’s design) her husband’s tortured confession of his one and only lapse while away in Germany on business, the couple are reunited and, for the most part, everything ends happily.

At the time I felt the play could do with some serious pruning to give us more of the main characters and fewer distractions, but thinking about it afterwards I’m not sure what could be cut apart from Armandine. The servants had some nice little scenes, especially at the hotel, and between the acts they also opened the ‘doors’ so that the stage crew could get into the rooms and move the furniture around – a nice touch.

From the post-show we learned that the actors figure out where to move as they work on the play; apart from some set positions, such as taking tea at the table in the hotel room, they’re free to do whatever feels right. The original play had Vatelin travelling to England for business and used the Channel as the barrier between him and France. In translating the play, Peter Meyer had changed the location to Germany, using the Rhine as the water barrier, and giving Heidi some time spent in England to account for her love of tea. I forget the rest of the points, but it was one of the more interesting discussions.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Dry Rot – October 2012

6/10

By John Chapman

Directed by Keith Myers

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Wednesday 17th October 2012

This is an old Whitehall farce involving a small country house hotel and a race-fixing plan. Despite the best efforts of the cast and a willing audience, we felt this touring production didn’t quite sparkle – not so much a decent handicapper, more of a selling plater. Steve thought a few of the cast weren’t quite right for the parts they played and the timing needed to be slicker, but there was still a lot of laughter from the half-full auditorium and there’s always the question in my mind of how well this sort of humour lasts; I’d have to see a top-notch production to be sure.

The set showed the reception area of the hotel, with French windows to the left, the main entrance beside them, dog leg stairs to the upper level beside the door with wooden panelling underneath, and a door and bar area to the right of the stage with the kitchen door in front of that. A radio stood on a table beside the French windows, there was a couch along from that and a table with two chairs stood in front of the bar area. There was also a bell positioned front right beside the kitchen door which refused to work as a bell but when kicked it opened a secret door in the panelling under the stairs, a fact discovered by the gang involved in race fixing but unknown to the owners of the hotel.

The owners were Colonel Wagstaff and his wife, and their daughter was also living with them. They had bought the hotel as a retirement home which would give Mrs Wagstaff something to do, but after six months they still hadn’t entertained any guests. They did have the ‘help’ of Beth, the retarded maid who spoke in a ‘comical’ West Country accent, slouched and broke a lot of things. The plot was under starters’ orders as soon as Beth produced a letter which she’d forgotten to hand over the day before and it turned out to be their first booking. The Wagstaffs assumed that ‘next Tuesday’ meant next week, but when you know farces….. The unexpected knock on the front door came soon after, and they’re off!

The plot is too convoluted to note up in detail, but involved substituting a doped ringer for the French favourite, The Cardinal. When that plan dropped out of contention, the fortunate coincidence which brought The Cardinal’s jockey to the same hotel suggested another option to the gang. There was a hidden passage to add to the fun, and with lots of night-time prowling going on the police were called in. As a result there was a strange police woman on the premises for much of the second half, as well as the diminutive French jockey. The Wagstaff’s daughter Susan was attracted to the young secretary, John Danby, who had been employed by Mr Tubbs, the gang leader, as camouflage, and so we had a little romance going on as well. Frankly, all it needed was a vicar running through the room at some point and we’ve have had a clean sweep.

I thought the cast looked uncomfortable during the curtain calls, though we were appreciative enough. Neil Stacy and Liza Goddard are always dependable and they did well enough in their roles as the Wagstaffs; their conversation about the non-existence of a piano was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Steve Blakeley as Fred, the hapless dogsbody of Mr Tubbs, did the comic business very well, and I liked the Gallic gesturing of Michael Keane as the jockey who spoke not a word of English. The two ingénues were played by newcomers Evelyn Adams and Mark Martin and were OK, and the rest of the cast did their best without distinguishing themselves. I did find the radio commentary of the race was very hard to hear, even when the radio was working, and overall the performance was enjoyable without being memorable.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Where There’s A Will – March 2009

6/10

By Georges Feydeau, adapted by Nicki Frei

Directed by Peter Hall

Company: English Touring Theatre

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 6th March 2009

This was a good adaptation of a Feydeau farce, with perfectly good staging and performances. It took the audience a while to warm up to the production and I felt there was a lot of humour going unrewarded in the early stages, but after the interval the laughs came more readily and it ended up as a good evening’s entertainment.

We’d seen this play before and recognised it within a few minutes of the start. Angèle’s second husband is finding it very difficult to put up with his wife’s obsessive suspicion that he’s having an affair. Her first husband cheated on her left, right and centre, but she was very naïve and trusting, so it came as a terrible blow when she discovered his infidelity. Now she’s gone the other way, convinced that every man cheats on his wife, and armed with her first husband’s journal of excuses, she’s determined to catch husband number 2 in flagrante, even if it means embarrassing him by interrupting an official meeting (he’s a politician).

Despite her watchfulness, her husband is still managing to see his mistress whenever her husband goes away on business. He does this by hypnotising his wife, leaving her asleep in the sitting-room with the lights turned down and the doors locked. He gets an opportunity to do this during the play (lucky for us, eh?) but what he doesn’t know is that the coachman and the maid have taken to using the sitting-room for their trysts when everyone is out, as signalled by the room being dark. There’s an extra complication (they can never keep it simple, these farceurs) with the arrival of an old friend of Angèle’s first husband, who had himself fallen in love with Angèle (unreciprocated) and to spare his friend had left for the Far East. Now he’s back, and the news of his friend’s death fills him with hope that Angèle will finally be his. When he finds out he’s too late, he’s distraught, but he hangs around long enough to discover the new  husband’s trick and to try and make use of it himself. With the husband arriving home early, being chased by his mistress’s husband, the scene is set for a lot of fun as each character struggles to come out on top, or at least not get killed.

The performances were all good. Tony Gardner as the first husband’s friend turned out to have a talent for physical comedy, getting himself into all sorts of funny poses as well as delivering his lines really well. His realisation that Angèle, believing her experiences to be a dream, was about to reveal to her husband his own impassioned declarations of love, was wonderfully expressed through his body language and judicious use of “ooh la la”.

The set was as it needed to be for this piece, with double doors to a balcony centre back, double doors to the room back left, two chaises right and left of the middle, assorted furniture appropriate to the setting, and doors either side at the front. Very much as we remembered from the past.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Baby Makes Three – February 2009

6/10

By Georges Feydeau

Directed by Michael Friend

Venue: Mill Studio

Date: Friday 27th February 2009

This evening’s entertainment comprised two one-act plays by Georges Feydeau.  The first was titled An Interesting Condition, and started with a husband and his very pregnant wife marching up and down the dining room carpet making noises – all the variations on “ooh” and “aah” you can think of. She’s suffering all sorts of agony as the baby is apparently due that day, although it’s one month early. The husband is just trying to have a little dinner, but somehow that simple desire brands him as a selfish bastard who doesn’t care a jot for his wife, despite getting her into this condition. Good job she’s not the complaining sort!

Her mother arrives and soon takes her daughter’s side. Between them, they manage to get the husband to put a chamber pot (unused) on his head (it was a dream the wife had had). The wife retires to her room.

Then the midwife arrives and starts bossing everyone around, demanding food (there’s only macaroni cheese) and wine (she settles for champagne). The wife’s father also arrives, annoyed at being dragged away from a game of cards at his club, and the exasperation of all parties mounts until finally the midwife announces that it’s all been a lot of fuss over nothing. The wife has had a phantom pregnancy. Aspersions about the husband being too useless to get his wife pregnant lead to references about his chamber-pot-wearing predilections, and the lights go out just after the husband has put the chamber pot on the father’s head so we miss out on the final punch up. But we can tell it’s going to be fun.

This was quite a funny one act play, though if we judged by the mortuary audience they had in tonight you wouldn’t have known it. The couple behind us spent the early stages scraping ice cream tubs and squeezing coffee cups, another woman leapt about a bit before settling down (she was in the front row, so it was a bit distracting) and the audience in general seemed indisposed to laugh. I thought the performances were all good and I would have rated this experience higher if the atmosphere had been more conducive to merriment.

The second piece was called Going to Pot. Another husband and wife have a number of altercations, mainly about the wilful refusal of their daughter, Toto, to take a laxative. She’s been constipated for, ooh at least three hours, so it’s obviously a major concern. All this while the husband is trying to convince an official from the Department of Defence to buy umpteen thousand chamber pots, soldiers, for the use of, which he believes will make him a fortune. One slight drawback is the tendency of the ceramic pots to smash when thrown on a solid floor. The other drawback is the presence of the wife, still en déshabillé, and the rebellious daughter, who contrives to get both the official and her father to drink the unwanted laxative while she munches on the sweeties.

It’s very funny, especially when the idea of the husband wearing a chamber pot on his head is briefly mooted, a nice echo of the earlier piece. It starts with the husband not able to find ‘les Zebrides’ in the encyclopaedia, under ‘Z’. It took me a few moments, but then I realised he was looking for the Hebrides. His wife comes in and corrects him pretty quickly, telling him he won’t find them under ‘Z’. He has to look under ‘E’. For ‘les Ebrides’. More laughter. The audience had finally warmed up, relocated, and shut up too, so this half was much more enjoyable than the first.

At long last the wife finds the entry under ‘H’, where the husband had sarcastically suggested she look. Cue an argument about whose idea it was to look there. And this was just the warm up. As the battle over the laxative heats up, the wife becomes ever more crazed, eventually forcing the official to drink a dose to show their daughter that it’s OK. He has a nervous stomach so it doesn’t do him much good. When the official’s wife and her male cousin turn up, the wife rashly informs the official that he’s a cuckold, as the closeness between the two cousins has been common gossip for some time and the rumour mill has done its worst. With that threesome storming off, the husband dashing to the loo (he took a glass of fruit salts by mistake) the daughter can pretend to her mother that she actually drank off the glass of laxative, and the play closes with mother and daughter in a fond embrace, happy at last.

Again, we liked all the performances, with Keith Myers, who played the husband both times, and Raymond Daniel-Davies (father-in-law and official) just nosing in front of a very good field. The set was straightforward, though tight for space, and the costumes were all fine. Even with the lukewarm audience response, this was still a good evening out.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me