Directed by Paul Marshall
This is a 1960s French farce. Lothario Bernard has three fiancées – Gloria, Gabriella and Gretchen – each beautiful airline hostesses with frequent “layovers”.
He keeps “one up, one down and one pending” until unexpected schedule changes bring all three to Paris and his apartment at the same time. The inevitable chaos ensues.
Bernard Mark Storey
Robert Stuart Scott
Gloria Samantha Elgar
Gabriella Laura Gamble
Gretchen Alice London
Bertha Janet Edden
Set Designer Alan Matthews
Stage Directors John Heather, Alan Matthews
Set Construction Alan Matthews, Andrew Heather, T62 Members
Set Décor Adrian Pope
Lighting Design Andrew Herbert
Sound Designer Ian James
Stage Managers Sally Guttridge, Maggie Matthews
ASM & crew Alan Matthews, Nikki Wilkinson
Air Hostess uniforms Valerie Polydorou, Margaret Uzzell, Diana Quinn, Joan Martin
Props Ann Herbert
Prompt Sandie Campbell, Janet Clark
Make-up/hair Penny Vetterlein, Christine Lever
Choreographer Hollie Campbell
Technical programming/support Ian Jeames, Jon Lewis
Technical operator James Quinn
House Manager John Heather
Refreshments Ann Herbert
Raffle Liane Marchant
Box Office Nina James
Poster/programme design Graham Copeland
Programme John Guttridge
Critique provided by Arthur Rochester:
“In this critique I propose to focus on what I see as the many strengths of the performance, which can be built upon for the future, as well as making any constructive comments which I feel may be helpful for consideration.
My basic criterion for evaluation of any production is the extent to which it met both the audience’s need for entertainment and the playwright’s intentions (so far as we can judge them). And let me say straight away that in my view this performance achieved both of those aims to a very marked degree. To see how that outcome was achieved it may be helpful to begin by examining the challenges to be faced when tackling this play.
Some years ago, when I adjudicated a farce by Ray Cooney, generally acknowledged as the leading British exponent of the genre, I looked up what he had to say on the subject. His principal comment was one which I found very interesting (and which you may well have heard before): that farce is more akin to tragedy than it is to comedy.
In a classic farce, such as this, characters are normal people out of their depth, in an escalating predicament which is beyond their control. Therefore everything which happens is a tragedy for someone. The action is propelled by panic and the characters’ efforts to save the situation progressively lead to additional complications, causing them to behave more and more bizarrely.
Although this means there is little room for subtlety, there is nevertheless a need for the audience to identify with the characters. Their response should be one of recognition that they might be in the same situation themselves, coupled with relief that they are not. The challenge for the actors is to present relatively one-dimensional characters convincingly as real people, rather than as stereotypes, and to convince the audience that their bizarre behaviour is, (perhaps only just), believable.
Characterisation must therefore be truthful and recognisable. The most common pitfall in acting farce is to try too hard to be funny and become unrealistically absurd. Also, the situations in which the characters find themselves may stretch audience credulity if thought about for too long, which means that one of the key performance requirements of farce is the maintenance of pace.
GoDA’s adjudication ‘descriptors’ have proved a useful structure for evaluation, so I will deal in turn with stage presentation, direction, acting and overall dramatic achievement.
Firstly the set, for almost any farce, presents a major challenge, if only because of the inescapable necessity for a multitude of doors. Alan Matthews’ design seemed to me not simply to meet that challenge, but to turn it to a positive advantage. With no attempt at realism – architecturally it made no sense at all – he provided a symmetrically stylized background ideally suited to the action.
Adrian Pope’s decor, including the colourful abstract paintings, was attractive to the eye and although it offered no specific reference to period and place – 1960’s Paris – it certainly created no contrary impression. The carpet was incidentally nicely co-ordinated and a considerable cut above the standard more usually seen.
Furnishings were wisely kept to a minimum, creating an admirably large acting space for the considerable amount of physical ‘business’ but a slightly larger table might have more comfortably accommodated its contents and added a little more ‘lived-in’ effect.
Ann Herbert’s props were appropriate, although the colour-coded photographs which were the focus of a practical ‘running gag’ could perhaps have been a little larger and I wondered whether a telephone could have been found which was more demonstrably French and 1960’s.
Lighting was suitably bright throughout, although there did appear to be slight variations in certain parts of the stage, and the use of the video of arriving and departing aircraft, together with realistic sound, was an inventive and highly impressive feature.
Costumes were well-chosen for the characters and the period, especially of course the uniforms, which I suspect might have been made for the production by the four ladies credited in the programme. Hairstyles and make-up were also appropriate. All these elements and the interaction of various design skills combined to create a standard of stage presentation which I thought underpinned the performance very effectively.
Farce also presents a directorial challenge, due to its formulaic nature, but Paul Marshall seemed to me to have a good understanding of the genre and a degree of creativity within the confines of the text. The cast’s ensemble playing was well developed and grouping and movement, especially in the frenetic passages in the later scenes, were well-planned and showed a good understanding of stage dynamics. The essential pacing of the action was relentlessly secure and sustained.
Acting in farce needs precision, dexterity and stamina. The delivery of the dialogue requires expert pacing, pausing and pointing. And, almost above all, it calls for generosity of spirit. Farce demands a huge degree of teamwork. In my view this cast, individually and as an ensemble, succeeded admirably in achieving that, with originality, flair and a good command of movement and vocal skills.
The three stewardesses were all attractive and energetically sexy, as they should have been. They clearly were intended to represent national (as opposed to character) stereotypes and I felt this could with advantage have been given a little more emphasis.
Samantha Elgar gave American Gloria a believable degree of independence and female power with an accent which was convincing if occasionally inconsistent. I felt she could have allowed herself a stronger (say, specifically New York) flavour without damaging the naturalness of her performance.
Alice London’s German Gretchen could also have had a slightly more pronounced accent to emphasize the teutonic, dominating personality which she successfully projected.
Laura Gamble gave Italian Gabriella an accent which to my ear sounded sufficiently authentic and a well-developed personality, displaying a considerable range of acting skills.
And Janet Sharrock, with an impeccable French accent, nicely contrasted the character of Bertha, the black-clad, chronically dissatisfied domestic, bringing out her ironically philosophical nature in a solid characterisation.
Mark Storey gave Bernard the urbane charm which the character demanded and amply demonstrated his vanity and self-satisfaction with his lifestyle before its disintegration. His accelerating descent into near apoplexy was handled with dexterity.
Finally, Stuart Scott took full advantage of the plum part of Robert, the rural visitor. Initially self-conscious and tentative, he created a convincing portrait of innocence corrupted by experience. The physicality of his performance was remarkable, making clumsiness somehow graceful. This was a beautifully controlled and highly successful characterisation.
The entire cast interacted most effectively, creating an ensemble displaying a high level of mutual trust and support. The amorous encounters were depicted realistically with no holding back and the choreography of the extended curtain call was excellently planned and executed. Although it is no more than should be expected, it is nevertheless worth mentioning that – on the opening night – there was universal security in the delivery of a quite demanding text.
Audience reaction is not always a reliable measure of dramatic achievement, but on this occasion the warmth and duration of the applause were ample evidence that the audience had been greatly entertained by a production of which everyone involved may be justly proud.”