SINCE London Classic Theatre launched its touring company in 2000, it has taken on a very wide variety of plays ranging from classic Coward and Wilde comedies to Pinter, Joe Orton and Beckett.
Tackling a 60-year-old full blown farce, albeit one that ran for seven years when first presented in London’s West End, means venturing into new and highly dangerous territory. Great farce companies, like those at the Aldwych prior to World War II and Whitehall Theatres after, did not come together overnight.
Then you have to add the question of how well the comedy in Marc Camoletti’s French play has survived the intervening years – even if it does hold claim to being the most performed French play in the world.
Undeterred by any of these challenges, LCT artistic director Michael Cabot, remembering the golden rules of playing farce at a pace so that the audience does not have time to realise how ridiculous the story really is, playing every scene absolutely straight and delivering every word as if it was high drama, unleashes his production with a shout of “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”.
His cause is aided considerably by set and costume designer Bek Palmer who helps to place the action firmly in the 1960s and a cast fully committed to creating believable characters in an unbelievable situation. In fact, if anything they are over-committed and pushing a little too hard in the early scenes to establish their characters.
The cork pops from the comedy champagne, revealing Bernard (John Dorney) who lives an apparently idyllic life with three air hostess mistresses, each neatly scheduled to follow one another into his Paris flat. But the scheme is shattered when new engines make flights faster and bad weather conditions result in all three arriving together.
It’s no-holds-barred comedy. The seven doors in Bernard’s flat fly open and shut with dazzling speed and immaculate timing as Isabel Della-Porta’s strikingly dominant worldly-wise and practical American from TWA, Nathalie Barclay’s full of Latin passion Alitalia representative and Jessica Dennis, the no-nonsense and utterly determined Lufthansa air hostess, miraculously miss one another throughout most of Act 2.
What is almost as miraculous is the way in which the cast have already come together as a team. Into the mix you have to throw Paul Sandys as Bernard’s provincial old school pal, paying a first visit to his friend’s Paris flat. He starts full of awe and admiration for Bernard’s audacious life-style, something he believes he could never emulate, only to find himself right in the middle of the plot and counter-plot, and beginning to love every minute of it.
Sitting slightly apart, almost like an observer of events, is Jo Castleton as the maid-cum-housekeeper Bertha. Marc Camoletti has supplied her with a full armoury of wonderful asides, complaining about having to continually change menus to accommodate American, Italian and German tastes, and self-asides as she exits – she hits the mark with virtually every one of them.
How does it all end? Well, that would be telling – but after a rip-roaring last couple of scenes in which the boys frantically attempt to save the status quo, it is the girls who have the final say in what the future will hold for each one of them.
The play continues at the Theatre Royal, Bath, until Saturday 4th June.