Theatre Review – Don’t Dress for Dinner @ Stoke Rep

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The Stoke Repertory Theatre continues its season with their production of Don’t Dress for Dinner. Originally written in French by Marc Camoletti – who also wrote Boeing Boeing – the play premiered in Paris in 1987 before it was adapted into the English language by Robin Hawdon. This version had a six-year run in the West End before transferring to Broadway.

As the title would suggest this play is a saucy romp given the extra frisson of excitement that the thought of a French mistress gives to people of a certain age. The action is set in a French cottage – actually a converted barn – and features Bernard (James Freeman) as a husband who has taken advantage of his wife Jacqueline’s (Bethany Froud) absence from the family home as she is visiting her mother.  A weekend of passion with his mistress Suzanne (Elena Fox) has been set up and cordon bleu cook Suzette (Sian Weedon) has been hired to provide the romantic meal.

Bernard has invited his friend Robert (Rob Lawton) along as a decoy for the whole scheme and this is where the plans go awry for Bernard is Jacqueline’s secret lover. So, the wife decides to cancel her trip in the hope of having a passionate weekend of her own and that is how the audience is led into a tale of marital treachery with the denouement being the arrival of Suzette’s husband George (Chris Ridge).

With the cook and mistress both having similar names the stage is set for the traditional elements of farce – an over-the-top storyline with lots of confusion, mistaken identities and characters talking at cross purposes with the comedy coming thick and fast. Don’t Dress for Dinner does this in abundance with the intricate script and visual gags providing a host of laugh-out-loud moments for the audience.

The cast worked extremely well as a team with all concerned giving credibility to a set of characters who had been placed in absurd situations. All deserved the warm ovation given to them by a well-attended audience on the opening night but I have to give a special mention to two of the cast.

Rob Lawton was excellent as the friend who is caught in the middle of a situation not of his own making. He delivered his often-intricate lines with aplomb and did well with the visual comedy. Sian Weedon was also excellently cast as the dizzy Suzette who has the nous to milk money from the harassed men in the house.

Director Craig Wood ensured that the whole show rattled along at a breathtaking pace and the two hours that the performance lasted – including the interval – passed pleasantly and quickly.

The theatrical genre of farce is treated rather sniffily by some critics. But as Wood says in his programme notes “… none of the characters is squeaky clean. It is just a great night of breakneck physical and spoken comedy.” Hear hear to that. I can’t think of a more pleasant and amusing way to spend a cold February night.

The production continues until Saturday February 15th. Telephone 01782 209784 for information.