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Why not tuck into this evening of comedy?



Review by David Munro

DON'T Dress for Dinner at the Richmond Theatre is a perfect entertainment for a Summer evening.

It is the type of play that one went to the end of the pier to see for sheer enjoyment and in a holiday and non-critical mood.

It is, therefore, perhaps a little unfair to turn the harsh eye of criticism upon, but that is what I am required to do and so you must bear with me.

The plot involves a husband, Bernard, played by Robert Duncan, who has invited his mistress, Suzanne, played by Amanda Humphrey, to spend the weekend with him in the belief that his wife Jacqueline (Vicki Michelle), would be away visiting her mother.

He also invites his best friend, Robert (Giles Watling), who unbeknownst to him, is the lover of his wife, who, when she learns Robert is coming for the weekend, cancels her visit to her mother.

In order to cater for Robert and Suzanne, Bernard has employed a cook for the evening, Suzette (Carol Harrison), and the stage is set for the usual parade of misunderstandings and mishaps that are the mainspring of farce.

In this case, it is the confusion caused by the fact that the mistress and the cook's name have the same diminutive - Suzie - so this results in a whole series of cross questions and crooked answers, which pass away two and a quarter hours reasonable painlessly.

I say reasonably as, while the first act is fast and funny, the second act sags sadly in its last 20 minutes when explanations and re-pairings occur.

The blame for this, I suspect, can be laid at the door of both the author, Marc Camoletti, as adapted by Robin Hawdon, and the director, Ian Dickens; the first because the repetitive explanations get a trifle boring, and the second because he fails to disguise the fact and allows his actors to be boring.

This is a pity as, until then, the pace had been fast and furious, and any discrepancies in the plot were well concealed by the performances.

Mr Dickens has assembled a good team, all of whom excel in the ensemble playing so essential for farce.

Each has his or her moment which is grabbed and played for all it is worth, while, at the same time retaining the framework of the plot and without over-hogging the limelight.

If I were forced to single out one performance from the rest, I would perforce select Carol Harrison, who proves herself to a very funny comedienne.

Her role as the cook mistaken for the mistress is the focal point for the farcical misunderstandings, and all the others have to play off her to exploit the full potential of the situation and its ridiculous consequences.

She maintains her role with skill, extracting every ounce of humour without overplaying her hand and turning the comedy into pantomime.

Her role requires her to represent herself as various characters, actress, courtesan, society woman - don't ask me why, it is that sort of a farce - all of which she made delightful characters and very funny.

All the others have their moments, which they seize with both hands. Robert Duncan blusters and forces Giles Watling to accept 'Suzie' as his mistress, to get him out of his predicament.

Giles Watling accepts his role, in both senses of the word, with aplomb and gets himself in and out of situations with a farcical abandon that is funny even when it is at its most ludicrous.

Vicki Michelle and Amanda Humphrey keep the pot boiling and still manage to look radiantly attractive, despite the clothes foisted on them by 'Outfit', that were responsible for dressing the production.

Patrick McGrath, as the cook's husband, George, whose entrance at the last minute brings the revels to a close, copes well with his ungrateful part.

The action takes place in a converted barn, adequately designed by David North, which provokes a lot of verbal humour as the characters are directed to rooms that were originally the cowshed and piggery, which is, as I have already said, at the very end of the pier and must be acceptable as such.

Don't go to see it expecting high comedy, save that for the acclaimed 'Design for Living ' coming to Richmond in September, just go for a good laugh and on the whole you will not be disappointed; Coward it may not be, but funny it is and well worth spending a Summer's evening with.

Don't Dress For Dinner, by Marc Camoletti (adapted by Robin Hawdon); Directed by Ian Dickens;
Designed by David North; Costumes by Outfit; Lighting by David North. WITH: Robert Duncan; Vicki Michelle; Giles Watling; Amanda Humphrey; Carol Harrison; Patrick McGrath. Produced by Ian Dickens Productions Ltd. At Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.

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