Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Don't Dress For Dinner

Don’t Dress For Dinner.

 Written by Marc Camoletti. Adapted by Robin Hawdon Directed by Walter Learning. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3. November 21 - December 5 2015.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Monique Dyson as Jacqueline. Peter Holland as Bernard. Michelle Cooper as
Suzanne in Canberra Rep's Don't Dress For Dinner.


Canadian director Walter Learning returns to Canberra to direct Canberra Rep’s final production for 2015. In keeping with an enviable and popular tradition of ending the year’s programme with a comedy, audiences are treated to Marc Camoletti’s French farce, Don’t Dress For Dinner, guaranteed to make the belly shake with laughter and set your mind spinning through a tangled web of deception, misconception, bumbling evasion and back-peddling explanation. Learning’s tightly directed and expertly timed production ensures an evening of hilarity and mirth with careful observation of the essential elements of farce: quicksilver timing, buffoonery and clowning, slapstick and physical exaggeration. Rep’s production has all this and more. The improbable becomes probable, the lie becomes the truth and none is whom they seem until it all becomes unravelled and the audience is led down another path of absurd probabilities.
Michelle Cooper as Suzanne. Robert De Fries as Robert.
Natalie Waldron as Suzette in Don't Dress For Dinner

Good farce is defined by its plot and situation. Bernard (Peter Holland) has arranged for his mistress Suzanne (Michelle Cooper) to visit while his wife Jacqueline (Monique Dyson) is at her mother’s. Jacqueline learns that their Best Man, Robert, is also coming, and feigns illness to continue her secret affair with Robert (Robert de Fries). Suzette (Natalie Waldron) arrives from the Bon Appetit Agency to cook a birthday meal for Suzanne and Bernard. Bernard convinces her to pretend to be Robert’s mistress. Suzanne arrives and is talked into playing the role of the cook. And the rest is farcical mayhem and madness as characters weasel and worm their way through a maze of twists and turns in which they change identities and stories. Robin Hawdon’s adaptation of Camoletti’s ingeniously convoluted sequence of events remains true to the fierce pace and absurdity of the farce, challenging an audience to keep up with the sudden shifts in the plot.

Robert De Fries and Natalie Waldron in
Don't Dress For Dinner
Learning has assembled a strong cast for Don’t Dress For Dinner. He is particularly fortunate to have two of Rep’s comic stalwarts in the roles of Bernard and Robert. Holland and De Fries bounce off each other with split second timing. From droll to demonic; from triumph to terror, these two masters of the double take and comical timing lend the production a turbine thrust forward. Camoletti’s female characters are less well developed and the three female actors make the most of their roles, which do little more than serve the action, driven largely by Holland’s Basil Faulty -like Bernard. Waldron in the role of the coquettish, opportunistic Suzette is someone to watch out for in the future, and there is a strong cameo performance from Daniel McCusker as Suzette’s bewildered husband, George.
Robert De Fries and Peter Holland in Don't Dress For Dinner

Don’t Dress for Dinner is what a Rep audience could expect from Canberra’s longest running, well established and highly respected repertory company. The production values, evidenced in Andrew Kay’s professionally created renovated barn setting, are high. Performances are engaging and the production in the hands of a professional director ensures the success of the farce. Rep has hit on a perfect precursor to the Festive Season and if laughter is the best medicine, then Don’t Dress For Dinner is the ideal remedy for the furrowed frown.
An edited version of this review was published in The Canberra Times on November 24th. 2015