DON'T DRESS FO'R DINNER
by Marc Camoietti, adapted by Robin Hawdon
Cyril Bennett discusses his production for Mow Cop Players, Milton , Stoke-an-Trent
The policy our company is to produce comedies or farces for our audiences and for this we are known. VI/e are always interes ted in the latest rel eases li nd on this occasion Samuel French, as usual, had notified us that DO T DRESS FOR 0 11 NER was to be released at the beg inning of September lil st year. We obtained copies of the play and decided "yes" this was for us. Although th e front cover of the ac ting ed ition calls it comedy, believe me this is a farce, but not a tearin g MOLlIld the stage farce, thi s is farce so phistica ted rel ying on the speed of the words rather than the speed of the feet. You need pace, timing, cue-bite and style. Put these toge ther and you ha ve th e a udi ence rolling in the ai sles.
Jacqueline his wife have converted a small French farmhous e that is ideil l for weekends and has the added a ttraction of being less than two hours from Paris . Bernard this particular weekend is hoping to entertain his chic Parisian girlfriend Suzy. He has arranged for a Cordon Ble u cook to furn ish the gourmet delights and is in the process of packing his wife off to her mother's. He has also invited his best friend Robert as a suitable alibi; it's perfect, what could go wrong? Suppose Robert and Jacqueline are secret lovers? Or how about the cook being mistaken for the mistress and the
mistress, who can't cook, mistaken for the cook? Mix a II these ingredients and you come up with a perfect recipe for a hilarious evening of entertainment.
need for "bogus" French accents for any of the cast, but some Gaelic hand and arm ges tures helped to establish the French chM actE'ris tics.
There Jre truee male and three female characters in this play. Although the action of the play takes place in France we saw no
First we have Bernard, husband of Ja cq ueline, who has the uncanny knack of turning a simple trys t into a giant cock-up and all the lime skilfull y ma nipulating the situations to his advantage.
Jacqueline need s to be attractive and wholly capable of w orking out the most complicated sit uations, at the samE' time covering up the fa ct that s he and Robert were lovers! Next we have Robert, lover Jac queline 's prior to his sojourn in Hong Kong. vVhat is required here is an actor who ca n maintain a comic panic throughout, together with the ability to h andle complicated situations quickly together with, on occasions, th e longish speeches that go with them. Suzette is the Cordon Bleu cook who gets mistaken by Robert for Bernard's mistress. She needs to switch her movements and demeanour in accordance with the cha ra cter she has to assume at any given time. Her poses, as a model, and her exaggerated walks all add to this part. Next w e come to Suzanne, Bernard's mistress, complete with Chanel coat! She must retain her Parisian mode throu ghout all th e disasters which await her. Lastly we have George who is Suzette's husband. He, a burly chef complete with Tyson punch, has arrived to take Suzette home, only to find everybody in a state of undress together with the confusion as to which Suzie everybody is talking about. This is a comparatively small part but essen tial to the plot.
We rehearse in a Youth and Adult
Centre where there is a small hall
:_ -". in fa ct, slightly bigger than \ Iitchell Me morial Thea tre e. where we produce our WS . This mea ns that we can set â€˘ Ihe hall to give us virtually the m positions as we will have on " ge. As this farce has only six racters and th ere is only one 'in t when all six are on stage, we u nd that we could have a ,ma iler set than usual to give that ' ar m intima te feeling to the a.:: tio n. After all this is all about :o mance!
\ s we reh ea rse twi ce a week we were "ble to take one "ct each " \'t'ning, thus allowing George to lave a night off until a week or so before the actual production week. This is also a play which can be broken down to allow fo r holidays by members of the cas t. Producers are not allowed "time off" from rehears<1 ls as fellow producers (at this mo ment noddin g their head s) will know!
T here is one major costuole chilllge which happens on stage in full view of the audience dnd must be very slick. Suzette must change from a maid"s costume into a very tight, black mini-skirted dress leav ing her arms and shoulders bare. The maid 's cuffs and apro n are easil y dt, tached by Robert and Bernard, they turn hEe' r back to the audi ence and rip off her blouse, w hich was black in colour with velc ro up the back. The skirt part o f her costume was a black e la s tica ted tube which when pulled under the arms formed the dress. The actress wore iI black bra, whose straps finished off the dress. Our production was adjudicated for a local festival and I quote the adjudicator's remilrks regarding the change: ""Costumes were always in character, sometimes inspiredly so, but Suzette"s transformation wa s the wardrobe's 'coup de theatre""'. Bernard requires several changes of shirts which are constantly getting covered by various forms of d rink, sa LIce etc. We borrowed a fur coat for the Chanel coat and the only other major requirement is for a nightdress which allows Jacqueline to "hang out"! All the other costumes need to be in line with the characters portrayed.
With regard to the fi xed props, I d id at first toy with the idea of having 0 fireplace but found that this did not suit the positioning of
THE PtAY PRODUCED
the furniture, so a radiato r was substituted for this. After all, all houses are mad e warm by some form of heating. We were lucky to be able to borrow a low-bo cked settee which gave us a ni ce acting space behind thi s without cu tting off half the actors' bodies. Apa.rt there were nO from thi s complicated props unl ess yo u count a co nstipated soda sy phon on our fir st night. This was put right before performance number two and gushed merrily away after tha t! There is a co nsiderab le amount of French currency but in the form of twenty franc notes. One other prop which we found to be very usefu l indeed was it bent baguette. On re turning from shopping with hi s wi fe, Be rn ard is about to ente r th e front door, ca rry in g shoppin g bags from which a sti ck of bread pro trud es, when the door is shut in his face, leaving us with the drooping baguette which is then lIsed to advantage by BernClrd.
UGH We had. floods behind the window and front d oor el t the rea r of the' se t and flood s throu gh th e two archways left an d right. As the bedroo m s were at the very front of the stage we found that Wt' did not ha ve to light these from behind. Otherwise the se t was wdl lit to give inte rio r li ghting a nd the re was no chan ge to this until th e end of th e pla y when the re was a blackout of the main act in g area leaving just the floods lit. This gave a dim but visible and rom an tic end to the play.
seE ERY. As will be seen from the photographs, we placed th e front door and window to the rear of the se t. I found that to allow the smoo th rlU1J1ing of the play it was better to have two archways back stage left and right, than two doors. There are m,lny quick entrances and ex its via these two areas. The flats were painted with a warm terraco tta emulsion paint with wood bea ms added to give a farmhou se appear<lnce.
If you are a company that likes to d o a good farce trom time to time then I can reco mmend this play both fro m a production point of view and from an audience point of view. We know from consulting
with m embers of the audience th at they thoroughly enjoyed thi s play. A word of warning: p rompters beware, there are pages of one and two word speeches coming in rapid succession, often repeating the same words again and again. As they say, "Follow tha t!"'. We used the song '"If you knew Suzie, like I know Suzie"' as o ur opening music with ""Little White Lies" to open th e second half. For the fir st time ever, our company had a matinee on the Saturday starting at 4.00 pm and foll ow in g the trend of supermarkets, we o ffered to pen sioners and une mplo yed people two concessionary priced seats for the pri ce of one. It worked. We had a good audience
for the matinee. As 1 said at the beginning, thi s is a farce on words not feet. Enjoy it as we did.