22 July 2021
French farce can trace its origins back many centuries and there are overlapping elements with the theatre form known as Commedia Dell’Arte. Ludicrous situations, stock characters and helter-skelter action are all symbolic of the genre. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the writer Georges Feydeau was the master of the farce and patently heavily influenced the work of Marc Camoletti, who made his name with ‘Boeing-Boeing’ (in an adaptation by Beverly Cross) which became a hit in the UK in the 1960’s. ‘Sexe et Jalousie’ was adapted by another British writer, Tudor Gates, and now goes under the name of ‘Ding Dong’ – those of a certain vintage and humour may yearn for an appearance from Leslie Philips!
Bernard, has a problem, he has discovered his wife is having an affair with another man, Robert. So Bernard tricks him into coming to his house to confront him. Robert is given two choices; one, to be killed in an unpleasant fashion, or two, to allow Bernard to have sex with his wife. Ludicrous; and that’s only part of the story. Twists and turns follow as the characters weave their own webs around each other and are in and out of various doors (always an integral element of a good farce) continually.
The use of French gypsy jazz music to accompany the production offers a wonderfully atmospheric and relaxing counterpoint to the silliness that follows and as the curtain rises the audience can envelope themselves in Andrew Beckett’s beautifully appointed cream and pale blue Roccocoesque Paris apartment.
Farce needs to be taken at some pace. Pauses must be carefully and sparingly used and the whole cast need to be on their mettle. This is a train that won’t stop until it reaches the end of the line.
Sophia Murphy directs with all the juggling balls fully in the air at all times; not one falls to the floor. The production races along and every ounce of humour is squeezed from it. The character of Bernard Marcellin is the pivot to the story (this is one of the stock characters mentioned already) and the actor in the role needs to be completely in charge of his performance; Andrew Nash accomplishes this in spades, exuding a devious charm along the way. As his wife, Jacqueline, Rachel Fletcher-Hudson – equally devious – skilfully runs the gamut of emotions with utter ease. Jonathan Ray is a natural farceur; a physical and vocal performance of joy – bodily and facial contortions abound as does the perspiration! Inez Mackenzie provides laughs aplenty as Barbara – the call-girl impersonating Robert’s wife – her Estuary English pronunciation is a gift and she wrings everything from the character. Robert’s real wife, Juliette, only appears in the second half of the play and Heather Wilkins throws herself into this lovely cameo. Finally, making an entrance every two minutes throughout is Daniele Coombe as the maid, Marie-Louise, who appears usually at the most inopportune moments and misinterprets most of what she sees and hears – a spot-on performance.
Though this may not be the greatest play of its kind, it has a neat plot, some sparkling dialogue, laced with plenty of double entendre and when presented in this fashion it does exactly what it is meant to do – to divert, to entertain and to induce laughter. Job done.
CAST & CREATIVES
BERNARD MARCELLIN – ANDREW NASH
JACQUELINE MARCELLIN – RACHEL FLETCHER-HUDSON
MARIE-LOUISE – DANIELE COOME
ROBERT REGNIER – JONATHAN RAY
BARBARA – INEZ MACKENZIE
JULIETTE REGNIER – HEATHER WILKINS
WRITER – MARC CAMOLETTI & TUDOR GATES
DIRECTOR – SOPHIA MURPHY
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECHNICAL SERVICES LTD.
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
SEASON PRODUCER – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS