MARC Camoletti’s farce, written in French in 1960, translated into English the following year, and revived to great acclaim in 2007, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most performed French play in the world. For two nights in Yeovil this week, audiences were transported back to the early 1960s in every sense: polite ushers in the Octagon Theatre showed them right to their seats; set, script and music were all from the same decade; acting and direction could have come straight from the stage of the Whitehall Theatre of 1950-1966.
This play is surely a classic by now; 54 years old and still making people laugh out loud, grab their companions and shriek as the plot takes yet another twist and turn into further implausibility. Bernard explains to his friend Robert how wonderful his life is, engaged to three air hostesses from three different airlines who can never meet because of their timetables. This is farce though, where irony is taken to extreme and all three fiancées are soon back in the same flat in Paris at the same time.
The actors in this Talking Scarlet production play their parts almost in spite of events, just about surviving without corpsing or having to give up. Where recent farces, especially later Ray Cooney work such as Run For Your Wife, are played with a truth, a believable side that draws the audience in and encourages sympathy with the main protagonists, this old-style method of playing primarily for laughs, almost in caricature, works on a more primitive, almost primaeval, level. We do not really sympathise with the characters who have themselves to blame for their farcical situation, we do not laugh with them, we simply find their predicament very funny and laugh at them.
The cast are extremely competent, and comic timing is perfect, with door-slamming a-plenty and the three air hostesses almost, but never actually, seeing each other. Ben Roddy and director Patric Kearns, as Bernard and Robert, are believable friends whose use of physical stunts brings out much of the humour, and Anita Graham is perhaps the truest of the actors, as progressively grumpier housekeeper Berthe, trying to keep up with all the arrivals and departures. The three fiancées are accurately stereotypical as American, French and German, and as well as acting well, with authentic accents, Kim Tiddy, Lara Lemon and Zoie Kennedy also look the part of size zero trolley dollies with long legs and plenty of make-up.
This was a thoroughly authentic trip back to the early 1960s and great fun was had by all, cast and audience.
Tuesday 25th March 2014