The tonic of laughter

Eastbourne Theatres’ artistic director, Chris Jordan, is renowned for giving audiences, especially visitors to the town in the summer, what they want.

This classic farce by French playwright Marc Camoletti, adapted by Robin Hawdon, could not be more appropriate seasonal fare.

Previously performed here six years ago, with two of the current cast, this latest performance remains two hours of preposterous nonsense which, thankfully, provides a much-needed antidote to the political goings-on this country has been experiencing. Laughter is said to be the best tonic. This play, which has been tickling the ribs of audiences for over thirty years, provides that medicine.

This new production, directed by Brad Fitt, who is a veteran of directing and writing pantomimes up and down the country, injects mad-cap frenetic activity into the action which never flags until the final curtain.

The unlikely scenario is a chic converted farmhouse, owned by Bernard (Ben Roddy) and Jacqueline (Polly Lister), a few hours outside Paris. Jaqueline has planned to visit her mother for the weekend whilst Bernard has secretly arranged for his lover, Suzanne (Tracey Penn), to join him at the farmhouse. He has also invited his best friend, Robert (Damian Williams), to join him as a decoy to deceive his wife, not knowing that Robert is having an affair with Jacqueline. When she finds out her lover will be coming to the house, she fakes illness and cancels plans to visit her mother. The scene is set for domestic disaster.

To further complicate matters, Bernard has hired outside caterers to cook a lover’s dinner whose representative is inconveniently named Suzette (Janine Mellor). Getting the two Suzies confused, Robert thinks the cook is Bernard’s lover and the plot launches into an even more complicated web of lies, mistaken identity and mayhem. If any one of the characters had dared to tell the truth, although an unlikely event, the play would soon have ended. But fortunately this is not the case and confusion grows when, in Act II, Suzette’s hairy biker husband, George (Stephen Oswald), arrives to find out why his wife hasn’t returned home.

This is a fine performance where each actor gives an accurate depiction of their character without losing the sympathy, even incredulity, of the audience. Damian Williams, in particular, with his contorted facial expressions and Tommy Cooper-like throwaway lines, together with engaging in repartee with the audience, “Does anyone want to come up here and have go?” imbues the play with a sense of genuine fun which extends to the back row of the circle. The timeless expression, “Laugh and the world laughs with you” has never seemed more appropriate. By Roger Paine.