Colin Laurence reviews Don't Dress For Dinner

Don't Dress for Dinner
by Marc Camoletti
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Mark Easterfield

More years ago than I care to remember I saw the original London production of Marc Camoletti's BOEING BOEING which, incidentally WCP presented in 1980. My visit to Waterbeach reacquainted me with this French playwright's work and in doing so reminded me just how well his humour translates into English.

Director Mark Easterfield had assembled a first-rate cast who obviously had a clear idea of how to approach this very convoluted piece of theatre. The plot is too complex to go into here. The play is set in a chic converted barn outside Paris and contains a more than adequate supply of mistaken identities, extra-marital affairs and characters who (literally) at times fall over themselves to avoid being found out. However, this is not an ordinary farce in as much as it isn't out of the 'foot-on-the-gas-and keep-going' stable. Far from it, for if it were to be played at that pace those watching it would be left far behind and wondering what exactly it was they'd just seen. Instead it requires exactly what this company gave it, several respites from the ever-increasing confusion in order to allow the audience to draw a collectively well-deserved breath.

Garry Fowler (Bernard) was the lynchpin of the show. His smug manner at the outset when he thought he'd arranged the perfect overnight liaison with his mistress, Julia Thompson (Suzanne) and his subsequent disintegration as his plans turned to dust was a delight to see. Christine Gilsenan (as his wife, Jacqueline) nicely illustrated her ability to change from the confident and slightly suspicious partner to the outraged mistress when she thought that her secret lover Robert (Stephen Smith) had gone off the rails. Steve Smith's descent into his personal hell was executed most effectively, as Robert became more embroiled in the subterfuge, pausing only to empty a vodka bottle and his wallet along the way. Julia Thompson (as Suzanne) elegantly strolled into the fray and unwittingly finished up cooking dinner wearing an evening dress and apron ensemble. Her unfazed acceptance of the events was well timed. The other key player in all of this, Jane Stewart as the not altogether dippy Suzette, the cook-that-never-was gave a performance, which was pitched at just the right level and never strayed into the absurd. Completing the cast was WCP veteran, Chris Shinn (as Suzette's monosyllabic husband, George). He demonstrated the character's initial dimness very well and his change of heart once he realised that he could benefit from the situation.

The set and properties were well chosen as too were the costumes, although I did think that both Bernard and Robert could have been dressed more sharply. I liked the dinner-style theatre seating which gave the audience (well, me at least) the opportunity of enjoying a glass of wine during the performance. The front-of-house staff, who are quite often overlooked, were on good form helping create the right ambience for the evening.

This was a very good presentation of a well-written farce. It was approached and delivered in a stylish way with no discernible weaknesses in the production. It certainly had all the right ingredients - in the right order. An extremely enjoyable evening all round.

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