Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Dress for dinner head

Overcooked: Richard Cogzell as Robert, Mandy Yeomans as Suzanne, Bhupinder Brown as Suzette and Sharon Clayton as Jacqueline, with, at the centre of it all, Dave Douglas as Bernard.

Don’t Dress for Dinner

Highbury Theatre Centre


AS any married, would-be lothario should know if he wants to remain intact, so to speak, playing away matches at home is pushing one’s luck to the point of death by debauchery.

And keeping billet doux from one’s mistress and, even worse, receipts for expensive gifts, gifts a wife has never clapped eyes upon, stuffed casually in a jacket pocket where the aforementioned spouse can find them is akin to a rather imaginative suicide note.

Bernard, led more by lust than logic, had invited his mistress for the weekend to his newly converted barn some two hours from Paris. With his wife off to her mother’s for the weekend, and the house to himself, he was living dangerously but, if all went to plan, he had a fair chance of getting away with it.

But farce doesn’t work like that, so throw in a cook who becomes a mistress, a mistress who becomes a cook, a wife who also doubles as a mistress, a best man who is . . . should we say, flexible, and last but not least, physically at least, we can’t forget George, the man mountain of a chef who arrives to pick up his wife who happens to be the cook/actress/mistress/neice/model or whatever she currently is at that moment for her usual 200 franc fee, and the scene is set for mayhem.

In fact amid all the double entendre and sexual sparks the only one not actually getting any, it appears, is the man who set it all up, Bernard, who far from a lustful weekend with his mistress, finds himself tap dancing around the truth aided and . . . well hindered really, if truth be known, by best man Robert, who had arrived to stay the weekend unaware he was invited merely as an alibi – breaking rule No 3 from the Golden Treasury of Practical Adultery that the less people who know the better.

Marc Camoletti’s farce is perhaps not as clever as his other big hit, Boeing Boeing, which also has a Bernard relying on a Robert to save his tangled love life, but is still full of laughs after Bernard’s wife, Jacqueline, decides to stay after answering a telling phone call meant for Bernard, alerting her suspicions.

That, in turn, leaves Bernard with the problem of explaining the impending arrival of his mistress, Suzanne, or Sumarc camolettizy for short.

Robert is the unwilling key to this deception, taking over, on paper, Bernard’s mistress for the weekend, so when he is left alone awaiting the arrival of mistress Suzy and the agency cook Suzette arrives . . . Suzy for short . . . it hardly needs a genius to work out things are about to head south at the speed of light, while the lies and excuses are about to breed like rabbits on Viagra.

The Swiss-born French playwright Marc Camoletti, who died, aged 79 in 2003.

Dave Douglas gives us a Bernard who hangs himself with every utterance. We all know his ever more elaborate lies would make tissue paper look like steel plate but he utters them with so much confidence you have to admire his bravado – rather like the man in front of the firing squad refusing a blindfold. When the web of deception is all about to come crashing down around his ears his plea for help from Robert is heartfelt. The game is up and he knows it.

Richard Cogzell’s Robert has some complex lines to remember, explaining the situation in rapid detail, losing cast and audience on the way, which he does well although the odd pause and restart might add to the manic effect. He also manages to add an air of bewilderment as bedlam reigns around him. He always seems on the verge of blurting out his own hidden secret and time and again adds more and more ludicrous layers of lies to the numerous deceptions he finds himself thrust into by Bernard. The holes the pair are digging become deeper by the minute.

Suspicious wife Jacqueline played by Sharon Clayton instigates the chaos when she cancels the visit to her mother. She gives us a matter of fact wife, almost normal in the circumstances, except of course for her own guilty secret. She is even convincing with her own logic on infidelity in that Bernard’s straying is the worse betrayal as he did it without ever knowing of hers.

Suzette, played by Bhupinder Brown, is the hire-in cordon bleu agency chef with an eye for a quick franc, or to be more accurate, a regular supply of 200 of them.

Brown has a light touch with nice timing, although her accent switch from cook to mistress can be a bit confusing at times. Her ability to squeeze money out of the hapless Bernard and Robert for the merest change in what she is asked to do is priceless.

And finally in this ménage a cinq we have the one and only, certified, official mistress, Suzanne, played by Mandy Yeomans, who, arriving too late for her designated role, has to play the cook. Yeomans plays it straight, not that she doesn’t get all the laughs she can, but amid the chaos around her she is a beacon, all right, flicker of sanity.

Big George, played menacingly by Dan Payne, adds a little menace to proceedings as everything starts to collapse in tatters of truth around Bernard.

Director Ian Appleby controls the pace and action well. It is very easy to let farce run away with the script with lots of hysterical shouting and manic running about; audiences know what is going on and our enjoyment comes from watching how the cast either cover up or discover the truth. It’s our secret, something we know and they don’t, and for that to work the cast have to take it all seriously, taking ludicrous situations at face value, and the cast manage that in convincing style as well as showing commendable comic presence and timing.

The moments of slapstick with soda syphons, sauce and ice cubes are very funny and handled well, as are the flashes of anger while the costumes and convincing set all add to a fine production.

It has a slow start but settles down to build nicely as mayhem ensues, although it does lose its way a little midway through the second act before building up a head of steam again for the rather inevitable living happily ever after climax. A good, enjoyable evening’s entertainment. To 13-02-16

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate