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

Romance at the double

hugo and fred

Charles Adey as Hugo . . . or Frederick . . . with Gina Lovell as Isabelle and Adey as Frederick . . . or Hugo

Ring around the moon

Dudley Little Theatre

Netherton Arts Centre


CHRISTOPHER Fry’s 1950 translation of Jean Anouilh’s French satire of social mores among the monied aristocracy takes us back to the theatre of another age.

It is an age of shooting parties, balls and elegant drawing rooms, or in this case the elegant winter garden of a French country house, L’Abbey Downtonne.

Here we find identical twins Hugo and Frederick. Frederick is lovelorn, sensible and sensitive and Hugo is . . . well the opposite.

Hugo is in love with Diana, spoilt daughter of a self-made millionaire, but he doesn’t know it while Frederick is desperately in love with her and knows it lots . . . or does he.

Diana meanwhile is in love with Hugo but as he shows no interest and shuns her she is making do with the next best thing, his lookalike twin and is engaged to him even though she doesn't love him.

Keeping up so far?

So Hugo engages an impoversished ballet dancer from Paris, Isabelle, to act as the niece of house guest Romainville to entice Frederick and save him from a disastrous marriage.

Except she comes with baggage in the shape of a mother who, by chance, studied piano years ago with Capulet, the ladies’ companion to the owner of the house, Madame Desmortes.

Confused?  Throw in Diana’s father, the ridiculously rich Messerschmann, who eats only noodles with no butter or salt, his mistress Lady India who is having it off with his secretary Patrice and a butler Joshua who sees all and says little and you should have all the makings of a French farce.

Except this is much more lightweight than that, and, no fault of Dudley, French society, with an aristocrat or two in every street, is a different animal to our English landed gentry so some of the satire is a little lost and we are left with an etended gentle comedy with a gossamer thin plot.

Charles Adey does a good job as the twins although perhaps a bit more welly into the part hugo, Isabelle and butlerof Hugo would not go amiss. The distinction between the two became stronger as the play went on but could still have done with more marked differences in voice and style so the audience could join in the fun of the confusion. Too often we had to wait for someone to give a clue as to which one was on stage. It should be the other characters who were baffled not the audience.

Lyndsey-Ann Parker as Madame Desmortes has wonderful enunciation, not a word was lost and every word had an ending, so often lost in modern speech – and this was not a modern play remember. It was a part played by Margaret Rutherford in the original production and Madame is old money and old aristocracy although where her family titles come from is rather unclear.

After the revolution France ended up with more aristocrats than it had before.

Hugo, or Frederick, and Isabelle watched carefully by butler Joshua played by Tony Stamp

She has some lovely Lady Bracknellesque put downs such as “No one who is plain can ever have been 20” and “If a working man can’t kill himself on a Sunday morning we might as well have a revolution now.”

She is pushed around in her wheelchair by Chris Ridgeway, fussing around as the put upon Capulet, a woman in that strange position between servant and lady, the companion, a paid friend.

Her real friend is  as Isabelle's mother, played by Alison O’Driscoll. a  mother with ideas several stops beyond her station. To her the commercial engagement by Hugo is transformed into a romantic one, her daughter courted by a rich member of the upper classes, a liaison which she has to share with Capulet and she in turn cannot resist reluctantly telling Madame and off the hare goes running.

John Lucock is just a nervous wreck as Romainville, worried his part in Hugo’s charade, and somewhat dubious meeting with Isabelle which started the whole farce,  will be discovered and he will be ruined while Emily Woolman as Lady India and Dane Gregory as Patrice, are a bit like younger versions of Howard and Marina in Last of the Summer Wine, trying to keep their tryst, a secret which everyone seems to know about, discrete. Their talking tango in the second act is glorious fun.

Spoiled and peevish Diana is someone it would be hard to like in the hands of Karen Whittingham but the real drama comes from Messerchmann, the self made zillionaire who was happiest as a poor tailor in Kraków, played by Frank Martino, and Isabelle, demurely played by Gina Lovell.

Lovell gives us a quiet and rather insignificant dancer paid to play a part until the madness of it all gets to her and she clashes horns with Martino’s industrialist, which becomes a battle between the philosophies of rich and poor, wealth and princile, which ends with the pair ripping money up and gaily throwing it into the air - a somewhat fanciful scene methinks.

The drama all blows over though and ends happily with Madame Desmortes acting as matchmaker and apiring everyone up to the extent you even expect Joshua, the butler, expertly played by Tony Stamp, to end up married to any spare woman left hanging around the stage.

Accents are maintained beautifully and Lyndsey Parker in wardrobe has done a good job with costumes which set the play nicely in the Edwardian era and director Maurice Felton keeps the confusion mainly on stage.

But it is inherently a long production at two and a half hours, stretching a thin plot to the limit, so a bit of tightening here and there would help improve the pace but it is not the easiest piece and Dudley have done a good job and should be commended in broadening their horizons, going for a less well known and less commercial piece of theatre, and succeeding admirably. To 13-09-14

Roger Clarke


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