Changing Rooms*** (Drayton Theatre, 29 November 2013)

Posted: December 2, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews::

No, the BBC is not reviving its property makeover show for a live tour, but all doubts as to what to expect here are removed as soon as the set for this production comes into sight. Three large doors at the back of the stage can mean only one thing – a farce. Marc Camoletti never quite achieved the same status as his fellow countryman Georges Feydeau, but two of his farces, Boeing Boeing and Don’t Dress for Dinner, were sizeable West End hits. The former was revived in 2007 and, largely thanks to a star turn by Mark Rylance, triumphed in London and then in New York. Rylance at his most formidable would have struggled to resuscitate this creaking museum piece, yet Anna Ostergren has managed to breathe enough life in it to provide a pleasant enough couple of hours. In essence the plots of all farces are usually the same, but the best of them are given novel twists, different characters, locations, etc to flesh them out and make them more interesting. However, there is hardly any fleshing out here. This is skeletal farce, the basics and little more. A middle-aged husband and wife each contrives for the other and their housekeeper to be away from their Parisian apartment for the weekend so that they can bring back their respective lovers; of course, all five end up in the apartment in different rooms and mayhem ensues. Kevin Marchant is suitably slimy as the lascivious husband, a high ranking Government official, and Maria de Lima makes the wife a vampish predator, impatient to devour her nervous toy boy (Milan Alexander). Anna Lukis amuses as the bimbo girlfriend, begging for a wedding ring whilst sucking on a lollipop, but the evening’s biggest delight is Jill Stanford as the housekeeper. Her every utterance is laced with sarcasm as she strives valiantly to direct traffic through the apartment whilst milking her employers of every franc (this is set in the 1960s) she can extort in bribes. The venue, a small pub theatre is a plus, so long as the performers remember not to overact, which is not always the case. When the audience is so close to the action, events in the play somehow come to seem less preposterous than they obviously are. Ostergren keeps things moving at a decent pace throughout, possibly helped by the characters having such a short distance to move as they chase around the room from one door to another. Vacuous and predictable it may be, but this production of Changing Rooms has enough charm to bring smiles to our faces and warm up a cold December evening.

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