An Hour And A Half Late – October 2006

Experience: 10/10

By Gerard Sibleyras with Jean Dell, adapted by Mel Smith

Directed by Tamara Harvey

Theatre Royal Bath Productions

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 19th October 2006

          Adapted by and starring Mel Smith, that’s mouth-watering enough as it is. Also with Belinda Lang, even better. And then add a superb relationship comedy. What more could we have wanted?

Nothing really. There was so much humour in this that I can’t possibly cover it all, so just (some of) the highlights. There was lot of laughter for the wife’s first three entrances. The husband is obviously waiting for her to finish getting ready, and she appears first in one top, then goes back into the bedroom, appearing a few moments later in another top, then goes off to another room, re-enters the bedroom, and comes back out in ….. the first top again! All of this was accompanied by Mel Smith’s wonderful expressions.

The wife wants to talk. She’s feeling old and useless, not helped by her husband’s lack of sympathy. He wants to get to an important celebration dinner being hosted by the man who’s buying him out of his business, thereby making him very rich. He’s also the man the husband’s worked with for twenty years, so it made sense at the time for the husband to tell his colleague about his wife’s unfaithfulness. The unfaithfulness, she now admits, which was a lie, designed to give their flagging marriage a boost. It succeeded, but now the husband is shocked to find out his wife hasn’t slept with another man, and she’s shocked to find out he told his colleague she had! (Apparently it helped the colleague’s sex life in his marriage.)

It’s a lovely comedy that points up the differences in approach and attitude between men and women. At one point she’s disheartened to realise she’s now a granny. His thought is that it’ll be his first time with a granny. When he complains about her obsessive tidiness, she tells him to spill his drink, and, reluctantly, he does. This triggers a mad session of hurling food, objet d’art and pot plants about the place. It’s a very stylish flat they live in, by the way, which makes it even more fun. Afterwards, they consider ways to restore their sex life, and he comes up with the squeaky floorboard idea – they’ll sleep in separate bedrooms, now their last child has flown the nest, and prowl to each other’s rooms, making the floorboards squeak as they go to heighten the anticipation. This is a very funny scene, as they try out all the squeaky floorboards they can find.

Eventually, this all calms down, and the wife is in a much better mood. She disappears off upstairs, and this time she reappears in her little black number, dolled up to the nines, and ready to go to the celebration dinner, an hour and a half late!

I can’t convey all the wonderful humour that was in this production. Much of it is in the performance, of course, but there were many great lines, and the overall construction was great. It’s been well adapted – although the ‘Frenchness’ of the play was still discernible, it worked well in a contemporary London setting. I will definitely see this play again when I get the chance.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Heroes – October 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Gerard Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard

Directed by Claire Lovett

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Date: Monday 9th October 2006

This was a French piece, similar to Art in that it’s about the relationships amongst three men. The three are WWI veterans, living out their days in a military hospital. They talk and grumble amongst themselves, and plan a daring escape, only to be foiled by the reality of their debilities.

It’s a short piece – only one and a half hours long, though not even that tonight. There were a good few laughs, and I would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been for the unfortunate woman on my left who turned out to be a serious fidgeter. Unfortunately, she showed no signs of fidgeting before the off; it was only when the lights went down that she began her activity – getting her glasses out of her handbag, folding her programme and putting in her bag (at the fifth attempt!), getting her bag back on the floor, getting her glasses on, and then, sadly, continuing to twitch and move around for most of the rest of the performance. Very distracting. I missed the first few minutes almost completely.

Once I got into the play, I found it entertaining but a bit insubstantial. The three characters are all well drawn. Gustave, the hard-bitten cynic, is terrified of going out of the hospital grounds, Henri is lame but still gets around and seems to have accepted his situation more than the others, and Phillipe has a piece of shrapnel lodged somewhere which causes him to pass out frequently. When he comes to, he’s always calling out “Take them from behind, Captain, take them from behind”, which we assume to be a military reference, until he lets us know that “Captain” was what a lover of his liked to be called.

Overall, it was more like a series of sketches than a play. Some of the situations were pretty funny. There’s a stone statue of a dog that Phillipe thinks he can see moving. Gustave plays along with this, but Henri thinks it’s a load of nonsense. Phillipe also believes that one of the nurses, Sister Madeleine, is bumping off inmates who share the same birthday, so as not to have two parties on the same day. He gets worried when another veteran arrives who shares his birthday, as he thinks he’s going to be the next on her list. This is one reason why they decide to head off together, to make a break for freedom. Sadly, Phillipe and Gustave want to take the dog with them, and this proves too much for Henri, who flounces off.

They have a scene where they practise roping themselves together which has a few laughs, and I felt that the final scene, when Gustave tells Phillipe that his sister’s died, could have been funnier. (Phillipe has been giving Gustave his letters from home, to which Gustave has been replying, so Phillipe has no idea what’s happened in his family. Apparently the funeral went very well.) I would like to see another production of this play sometime, to get a better chance of appreciating it without so much distraction.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me