The Apollo Players whetted our appetites with a superb production
Based in Newport, Isle of Wight, The Apollo Theatre provides a focal point for the theatrical arts in the local community. The theatre puts on a series of seven plays each season, is home to Newport Jazz Club and hosts concerts and plays by local dramatists.
I had recently reviewed ‘Boeing Boeing’ by French playwright Marc Camoletti and was looking forward to the Apollo players production of Marc Camoletti’s ‘Don’t Dress For Dinner’.
‘Don't Dress for Dinner’ is set in the present day in a French farmhouse that Bernard and his wife, Jacqueline, have converted. With Jacqueline planning to visit her mother for the weekend, Bernard seizes the opportunity to entertain his chic Parisian mistress Suzanne. When Jacqueline discovers that Bernard’s alibi, her lover, Robert, is coming to keep Bernard company she decides to stay at home, thus thwarting her husband’s plans. Add a cordon bleu cook hired from a catering company who is mistaken for the mistress and you have a recipe for disaster. As one implausible situation leads to another, Bernard tries to salvage some time with his mistress and the hapless Robert tries to cover for Bernard.
‘Don’t Dress For Dinner’ had all the usual ingredients of a farce; misunderstandings, mistaken identity, infidelity, compromised innocent parties and plenty of doors. Although there was no trouser dropping in this farce there were plenty of shirt changes for Bernard thanks to another farce favourite – the soda siphon. Maintaining a good pace throughout, the cast kept us on our toes, and with plenty of laughter from the audience, we followed the twists and turns as the various relationships became more complicated. The sillier the plot became the funnier it got.
Steve Taverner’s scheming Bernard, went from calm and collected to despair and panic as the chaos developed around him. Bernard, determined to save his own neck, involved his friend Robert, played superbly by Pete Harris, in his schemes which made for some very awkward but hilarious situations. Reprising their roles as Bernard and Robert in ‘Boeing Boeing’, Taverner and Harris worked well together and their exchanges and comedy timing were slick. Their delivery of the convoluted explanations to the women earned well-deserved applause from the audience.
Rose Kelsey produced some excellently well-timed comedy as Suzette the cook. Her facial expressions and demeanour endeared her to the audience straight away, as we laughed whenever she made her frequent demands for 200 francs each time she was asked by Robert and Bernard to do something else that wasn’t in her remit. When told “you can’t wear that” the quick change from her waitress outfit was effected swiftly and slickly by Bernard and Robert, to reveal a short silky black petticoat. Suzette revelled in her new role as party guest and her scenes with Robert as she played the part of his mistress were very funny, much to Jacqueline’s dismay. Suzette’s final exit, wearing the expensive fur coat, elicited a huge round of applause.
Chris Turvey as Jacqueline went from cheerful to extremely jealous and bordering on the verge of murderous when egged on by Robert’s mistress, Suzanne, a delightful portrayal from Nessa law. There was a lovely moment when the two women sit side by side on the sofa planning revenge on the cheating Bernard, with Jacqueline unaware that Suzanne is actually her husband’s mistress not the cook.
Suzette had spoken of her possessive husband so the audience anticipated his arrival and what this may imply. John Abrahams conveyed Suzette’s protective and almost Neanderthal husband George perfectly. George’s arrival moved the plot in another direction entirely, much to the Bernard and Robert’s discomfort and the audience’s amusement.
The excellent set designed by Michael Arnell provided the perfect setting and was in keeping with a rustic old farmhouse complete with beams. As one would expect with a farce there were plenty of doors and entrances - from the main barn into the 'piggery' and the 'cow-shed', and an opening leading to the kitchen and another leading to the stairs. The window next to the front door gave the audience a view of the French countryside.
Costumes were perfect and there were plenty of costume changes to match the situations the characters found themselves in. Lighting and sound teams added the finishing touches.
Director Gwen Steven’s careful direction of her actors demonstrated the well-planned moves and positioning for the many entrances and exits. Farce is one of the hardest genres to get right but this production was well cast, directed and staged.
It was a full house on the night I saw the play with the rest of the run sold out. In conclusion The Apollo Players are to be congratulated on a first class production that kept the audience entertained throughout.
Top photo: Paul Jennings
Bottom photo: Ian Johnston LRPS