Home
Reviews
Archive
Listings
About Us
Email

Production

A Bedfull of Foreigners

Company

British Theatre Playhouse

Reviewer

Deanne Tan

Date

19/11/2006

Time

3.00pm

Place

Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel

Rating

****1/2

What Lies Beneath

I would like to start with a couple of warnings to "serious" theatregoers and critics. First: A Bedfull of Foreigners does not do much by way of edification. Its primary objective is to entertain, and it is not above pulling a few cheap tricks to achieve this. Second: this comedy was first performed in 1976, and it shows its age slightly (e.g. the characters include an English biscuit salesman and a French cabaret dancer).

While these two factors do not damage the British Theatre Playhouse's successful production, they warrant mention before I can proceed with the effusive praise that the performance deserves.

The play was a winner, regardless of whether one is accustomed to Shakespearean or tarts-and-knickers brands of comedy. The plot was uncomplicated but clever enough to serve its comic purpose. Two British couples staying in a little French hotel wind up in morally compromising positions due to an unfortunate coincidence. They subsequently go to painful lengths to cover their tracks, fearing discovery and the wrath of their spouses. The script was hilarious, full of the flagrant innuendoes and witty puns typical of British humour. The actors were committed and professional, combining comic timing, physical comedy and a strong cast chemistry. Tight pacing by director John Nolan meant that there wasn't a cheesy moment that overstayed its welcome, and burlesque elements stayed on the right side of "camp". While the actors seemed to be having a ball of a time onstage, there was skilful control behind every laugh-inducing word, pause and gesture.

As a result, Dave Freeman's depiction of the hysteria experienced by those who incur the wrath of their jealous spouses was hugely engaging, even to someone who is neither British, married nor cheating on someone.

More remarkably, the actors' keen attention to comic timing and the audience's response created a live and resonating energy. Take the first half of the play, which contained the most ridiculous shenanigans, and in which a stuck closet door played a rather central role. As middle-aged hausfrau Helga (Kim Hartman) frantically abseiled out of the hotel window, displacing the radiator as well as her clothing, I expected to be rolling my eyes at the next scene. Then, just as my eyeballs started twitching in their sockets, in waltzed French cabaret dancer Simone (Emma Francis), completely clichéd in a tight red dress and beret, ready to surprise her lover, the biscuit salesman Claude (Jeremy Gittins) - whose wife just happens to have abseiled out of the window. The timing of Simone's entrance was so precise, and her exaggerated tart act so self-possessed, that I just had to laugh at how screwed Claude was.

While the quality of the cast was consistently high, special mention should be made of Nick Wilton, who played a regular bloke-next-door drawn into the sordid world of Claude's cheating ways. Wilton channelled into the part of Stanley a frustrated but good-natured husband whose treatment at the hands of women looked akin to POW torture. First nagged by his wife, then by Helga (whom he assisted with the abseiling), Stanley was finally forced to perform a hilarious striptease as part of Simone's ploy to make Claude jealous. Wilton stripped initially with the tentative shyness of one unused to any kind of seduction. But as Stanley's thrusting and jiggling became more liberated, and his character more confident of his (imagined) sexual allure, he became increasingly awful and hilarious to watch. (It was also then that Stanley stopped being an innocent accomplice and became an active participant in the decadence, but, because this was a farce, it was funny and one did not have to worry about moral consequences.)

Since the play was obviously not designed for critical enquiry, I will only say that I was heartened to see some shades of soul beneath the rock-and-roll comedy. Even though Simone bemoaned the fact that her chosen lover was a sorry biscuit salesman, she remained despairingly faithful to Claude. At the same time, Helga's gathered composure throughout the madness hinted at an obsessive need for control, perhaps resulting from a subconscious awareness of Claude's misdemeanours.

Given the farcical nature of the play, the sound and lighting could have been more colourful, in line with the overall tone of the production. The use of lighting would have heightened the dramatic effect of Stanley's startling re-entrance through the window in a monk's robe and with his face charred. Sound and music would have enhanced the carnival atmosphere, which was already present in the local village festival taking place just next to the hotel.

All in all, A Bedfull of Foreigners was a completely satisfying experience that embodied the best production values seen by this reviewer in a long while. The British Theatre Playhouse deserves kudos for having pulled off this comedy with such gusto and professionalism. Theatre should always be this good, this alive.


"Dave Freeman's depiction of the hysteria experienced by those who incur the wrath of their jealous spouses was hugely engaging, even to someone who is neither British, married nor cheating on someone"

Credits

Script: Dave Freeman

Cast: John Nolan, Richard Denning, Nick Wilton, Corinna Powlesland, Kim Hartman, Jeremy Gittins, Emma Francis

Director: John Nolan

Producer: Cecilia Leong-
Faulkner and John Faulkner

Set: Norman Coates, Tan Yu Kim

Lighting: Andy Lim Chung Keat

Production Manager: Pabel Tan Suan Gee

Stage Managers: Tom Nolan, Koo Ching Long, Andrew Jeevan

Set: G.N. Dass Media Enterprises

More Reviews by
Deanne Tan

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.