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Essential Surrey

5 STARS, June 20-24. A farcical romp through marriage, adultery, mistaken identity and salubrious silliness, Don’t Dress for Dinner is well worth the price of admission says Alice Cairns

On the face of it, Don’t Dress for Dinner has all the ingredients of tragic melodrama. There’s infidelity, jealousy, threats of castration, and a cast of morally ambivalent characters willing to deceive their nearest and dearest for personal gain.

But Marc Camoletti’s play manages to weave these dark themes into a raucously entertaining farce, in which the importance of marriage is ultimately affirmed. The final bedroom door slams shut on the surprisingly monogamous note that married people should stay together, and singletons stick to their own kind.

It’s difficult to summarise a plot so packed with misunderstandings, mistaken identities and lies. Bernard is eager for his wife to visit her mother so that he can treat his mistress, Suzanne, and his best friend, Robert, to a fully catered dinner in his rustic converted barn. Unfortunately, Jacqueline decides to stay – unbeknownst to Bernard, she’s been having a passionate affair with Robert. What follows is a positive whirlwind of absurdities and confusion.

Soon enough, an unsuspecting chef is being roped in to play the role of a mistress, and Bernard’s minx of a girlfriend in her expensive Chanel coat is forced to act as chef. It’s telling that the guests are housed in the cow-shed and the piggery – this is a play in which people act on their most animalistic urges, and get into a great deal of comic trouble for doing so.

Don’t Dress for Dinner is brought to life at the Yvonne Arnaud by a talented cast who work together with palpable chemistry. Damian Williams as Robert has an excellent rapport with the audience, improvising chatty asides that won some of the biggest laughs of the evening.

Sara Crowe gives a quieter performance, radiating embittered dignity and smouldering with (hypocritical) outrage. Claire Sundin as Suzette has fun with the best role in the play, the Cordon Bleu chef in neon leg warmers who plays along with her eccentric employers in exchange for increasingly large sums of cash.

The cast evidently had a great deal of fun with the material, and their enthusiasm was infectious. The fourth wall was repeatedly broken, adding to the festive atmosphere of misrule and drawing impromptu bursts of applause from the audience. The whole evening was frothy with physical comedy and silliness – in a standout moment, Suzette’s dowdy maid costume was transformed before our eyes into a slinky dress.

In fact, costumes were used to their fullest comic potential in Don’t Dress for Dinner, from Bernard’s ever changing shirt to the comic array of eccentric pyjamas worn by the cast as the night wound to a close.

The whole thing is exquisitely choreographed, and a great deal of fun – the audience was vocally appreciative throughout. The play may be silly, but this production comes highly recommended.


Guildford Dragon 

This week the Yvonne Arnaud hosts the comedy Don’t Dress for Dinner by Marc Camoletti and adapted by Robin Hawdon.

Not having heard of Mr  Camoletti, I was surprised to find he had been a reasonably prolific French playwright. He wrote more than 40 plays of which this and Boeing-Boeing are probably most familiar to English audiences.

Don’t Dress For Dinner at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Enjoying the classic farce with

Sara Crowe, Ben Roddy and Damian Williams.

The director, Brad Fitt, has worked with his actors to ensure they give their best to Camoletti’s play.

The setting is a converted hayloft, cowshed and piggery somewhere in France. If you’ve watched an episode of TV’s Escape to the Country, you’ll know what can be achieved by converting a barn in this country, but this is France, and you have stairs to the hayloft, stairs to the kitchen, stairs to the front door and stairs to the living room.

A good workout for the actors!

This play is fast-paced, convoluted, and confusing. Just when you think you know what’s going on, another twist leaves you gasping to catch up.

Don’t Dress For Dinner at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Shock, horror and surprise with

Sara Crowe, Ben Roddy and Damian Williams.

When I got home after the performance Monday night, I tried to voice a couple of the explanations that Robert (Ben’s friend, played by Damian Williams) managed to get his tongue around and failed miserably.

Not only are there verbal shenanigans, there are also physical pieces of stage craft. However, did Bernard (the errant husband, played by Ben Roddy) and Suzanne (Bernard’s girlfriend, played by Stacy Victoria Bland) manage to cover him in veloute sauce without us seeing? I’ll never know.

One lady in the audience narrowly missed receiving sliced banana a little later! Skilfully done, I couldn’t tell whether it was a planned or an unplanned piece of stage play.

Jacqueline, Bernard’s wife (played by Sara Crowe), was the perfect suspicious wife with a guilty secret. She was supposed to be visiting her mother, but changed her mind when she heard Robert would be there.

As the evening and the number of twisted explanations progressed, she was looking more and more confused, although she said she understood as each new explanation issued from another cast member’s mouth.

Superb comedy with a definite four stars. by Tricia Marcotti

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