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The term “farce” originates from the French word for to stuff. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was used in the 16th century “metaphorically for comic interludes “stuffed” into the texts of religious plays.” Watching modern plays in the genre, one could be forgiven for thinking that the term derived from the way that farces seems to stuff way too much action into their climactic scenes than is healthy for the director, actors and stage manager. They require comic timing, physical dexterity and exquisite reactive acting, as well as perfect choreography, clever set design and careful stagecraft.
Berliner GrundTheater and New World Theatre Club have managed to meet these challenges head on in a double bill of short farces currently playing at the Forum of the Geesseknäppchen school campus. What’s more, the two relatively obscure plays had to use the same sparse set consisting of a room with two doors and a walk-in closet (oh, it wouldn’t be a farce without a closet or cupboard to hide in).
BGT is first up with Tony Kingston directing “Husbands Supplied” by Falkland L Carey. Set in an agency that finds suitable husbands--well, any sort of husband really--for women of all kinds, Carey’s play is comic and rather genteel (it was written in 1939), but retains enough universal references to make it feel contemporary.
The tone of the play is set immediately by the confident June Lowery, who displays brilliant mastery of dry wit as the owner of the Husbands Supplied agency, Mrs May. She is instructing her latest secretary, played with delightful naiveté by Laure Schreiner, on the procedures of the agency. A parade of women enter the agency, each one completely different from the other but all with one goal--to snag a husband before the day is out.
These seemingly brittle women are instantly recognisable caricatures--there is the brash vamp Mrs Wuff (Jessica Whitely), the quiet and enigmatic Mrs Bee (Lindsay Wegleitner), the bohemian Ms Waff (Jacqui Milne), the no-nonsense working class northerner Ms Crunch (Helena O’Hare) and the quaint elderly spinster Mrs Gee (Elizabeth Adams).
When a nameless potential husband (Bjørn Clasen) appears, the women are like a pack of jackals ready to tear a piece off their prey. Only a few of the women reveal new colours as the narrative progresses to its inevitable climax.
Each actress is well cast, and those familiar from earlier BGT productions--the likes of Wegleitner, Whitely, Lowery and Milne--once again show why Kingston trusts them on stage. Clasen provides a good foil for these man-eaters, at once proud and vulnerable. But it is Helena O’Hare who catches the eye with a wonderfully confident and natural performance, providing many of the best lines and comic moments.
It is all the more astonishing, then, to see O’Hare taking centre stage, after a short interval, in NWTC’s “Fifty!”, directed by Bjørn Clasen. She is superbly charismatic again as Fran, the frustrated wife of boring workaholic David (played superbly with suitable insouciance by Andrew Stewart), whose fiftieth birthday she is determined to celebrate.
Gina Millington plays their flirtatious teenage daughter Jessica, who is in on Fran’s plan to throw a surprise party for David. But, the best laid plans always go awry, and especially so in farce. David has other arrangements for the evening and when cheeky, sex-obsessed neighbour George (a wonderfully comic turn by Tony Kingston) gets involved anything can, and probably will, happen.
Throw into the mix Jessica’s new boyfriend Damien (Artemios Vogiatzis) and his criminal acquaintance Alan (Carl Springer), who has to hide repeatedly in that requisite closet, and the stage becomes a hive of activity; a whirligig of exits and entrances and physical slapstick.
The genius of this production is setting the play in Luxembourg, and packing the script with local references that guarantee additional laughs to the jokes already crammed into the snappy dialogue. O’Hare, Stewart and Kingston carry the play with superb comic timing, and Clasen does a great job of managing the climactic scenes in which ten people are on stage--June Lowery, Mayalani Moes, Florin Farcas and Jacqueline Milne having joined the aforementioned actors.
“Fifty!” had the audience laughing loudly and leaving the Forum with plenty to talk about, and no doubt recommending the show to their friends.
The double bill runs every night until Saturday 17 October at 8 p.m. at the Forum, Campus Geesseknäppchen, 40 Bd Pierre Dupong, Luxembourg-Merl. Tickets are available on tel. 356 339 or via email: [email protected].