Don't Dress For Dinner

Date 16th March 2023
Society St Nicolas Players
Venue South Holland Centre
Type of Production Play
Director Glen Barker and Mandi Wood
Producer David Whipps
Written By Marc Camoletti and adapted by Robin Hawdon

Report

Author: Kei Bailey (Assistant Rep)


After settling myself in the beautiful auditorium of South Holland Centre, I began to flick through the delightfully designed programme which had been warmly presented to me by the FOH team. I read the synopsis and very quickly realised I was going to be treated to, in the words of the Little Grimley Committee, ‘a nice little farce.’ I noted the director had taken the decision to set the play in the late 1970s; an unusual move as the script was not written until the late 1980s but one that I think worked in the team’s favour. Normally, if a play’s time setting is changed, you often find it being brought forward to modern day but, in this case, the dated scenario and themes would not have transferred particularly well to 2023.

The play itself, and this is very much a personal opinion, seemed somewhat stiff and tired in places. It was pleasant enough entertainment with some funny moments, but not enough to disguise the clunky, repetitive structure and passé feel of the whole premise. Also, there just weren’t enough gags! Some clever one-liners, witty wordplay or even some more innuendo may have served to rescue the clichéd script a little. Having said that, this cast, under the proficient direction of Glen Barker, and his assistant, Mandi Wood, managed to eke out every last drop of comedy that they could.  Glen and Mandi should be congratulated on their directorial skills. The speed and rhythm of the play was expertly handled, and any slumps in pace I would suggest were down to the script. The stage, and consequently the set, was large, but the directors succeeded in filling the space with brilliantly choreographed movement and physical comedy. The business with the telephone lead was inspired, actors effortlessly wrapping themselves in the wire like a fly in a spool of spider’s web, and there were many lovely moments like this when the cast were kept on their toes. Glen and Mandi certainly worked them hard but each actor rose to the challenge. Michael Hughes played the philandering husband, Bernard, and from the moment he entered, skipping with glee at the prospect of an illicit weekend in the arms of his young mistress, his dynamic energy was tangible. He soared through his lines with exquisite speed, his diction never dropping as he fired out his lines. His bumbling
mannerisms were very funny and his slapstick skills were accomplished. For his final exit, I loved the nod to Kenneth Connor in Carry On Abroad when he impersonated a charging bull chasing after his wife up the stairs to bed. This excellent performance was matched by Lynn Kirk, playing his long-suffering, but not so innocent, wife,

Jacqueline. Lynn had a wonderful stage presence as she glided through the action with icy sophistication and understated control. Her facetious remarks and withering looks were spot on and she flitted from domineering battle-axe to flirtatious lover with
ease.

The next character to get embroiled in the complicated subterfuge is Bernard’s best friend, and also Jacqueline’s lover, Robert. This part was portrayed by Andrew Rudd,  and it was evident from the start that he was having immense fun in the role. Stumbling through the confusion, Robert’s calm and composure gradually melted away revealing a man at his wit’s end, completely out of his depth and Andrew handled this with flair and dexterity. Next, enter Suzette, the cordon bleu chef hired to prepare gourmet dinners for the weekend who unwittingly gets involved in the unfolding chaos. Suzette was played by Emma Dobbs who, for me, stole the show with her deadpan delivery, bemused looks, and clumsy attempts to act out various alibis that were thrust upon her. Of the few laugh-out-loud lines, Suzette was lucky enough to have the majority and Emma delivered them with excellent comic timing. Her quick-fired recollection of Robert’s potted life history was perfect and deservedly received a big round of applause. 

Yet another visitor arrives next, this time Bernard’s mistress, Suzanne, portrayed by Michelle Collins. Michelle spent most of the play tottering around in particularly high- heels, a clever move for comic effect to accentuate the height difference between
herself and her shorter lover. I found this device reminiscent of the moment in the televised version of Abigail’s Party when Lawrence dances with Sue. Michelle gave a strong performance as the glamorous yet bewildered mistress and I definitely
wouldn’t want to be at the other end of a rolled-up newspaper she was wielding. The final character to appear, and only very briefly in act two, is George, the gruff, bullish husband of Suzette. Nick Fletcher tried to make the most of this cameo but I felt he
was disadvantaged because the role was seemingly written for a much younger actor. Having said that, Nick had a good command of the stage and made a real effort to be intimidating and threatening. The accomplished acting was complimented brilliantly by the high production values Glen Barker and his team had evidently strived for. The scenery was superb and the design and build team should be congratulated on a polished and sturdy set, the décor and furnishings were perfect for a renovated farm building in the 1970s. The
only observation I would make is that for such an expansive stage space, more set dressing and furniture may have made it feel fuller and given more obstacles for the actors to dodge and run around in the chaos.

Janet Staples did a great job of the costumes as there were a lot of changes needed for most of the characters and all were good quality. I particularly liked the nightwear, and seeing the characters in their period-piece dressing gowns certainly served to lift the action as the laborious denouement played out. I also felt the nightwear, along with the evening wear, was more in keeping with the seventies setting than the daywear which seemed more eighties. The costumes were expertly complimented with hair and make-up by Jules Jones, although I wasn’t sure about the tattoo on George’s cheek as, from a distance, it looked like a big smudge of oil – I thought he was supposed to be a mechanic, to begin with.

As someone who has been in a few farces, sometimes there is as much frenetic action offstage as there is on so huge congratulations to Arline Evenden, Jules Jones, and their team for their amazing work to keep the cast flowing seamlessly back and forth with various props.

On the whole, this was a fun night out in the safe hands of the experienced and extremely skilled St. Nicholas Players. Glen, Mandi and producer, David Whipps, should be very proud of what was a fast-paced, energetic and slick production.