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Changing Rooms, Drayton Theatre – Review

Pros: The timing of the actors’ various entrances/exits was spot-on – not an easy thing to achieve. Also, the director is fierce and fabulous – a determined soul. Expect big things from her in the London fringe scene. 

Cons: Farce is often a cheese-fest and the actors’ performances were at times grating (yes I just used cheese word-play). A little over-cooked.

Pros: The timing of the actors’ various entrances/exits was spot-on – not an easy thing to achieve. Also, the director is fierce and fabulous – a determined soul. Expect big things from her in the London fringe scene.  Cons: Farce is often a cheese-fest and the actors’ performances were at times grating (yes I just used cheese word-play). A little over-cooked. Changing Rooms revolves around the well-to-do haute-societé couple Bernard (Kevin Marchant) and Jacqueline (Maria de Lima). He is an ambitious government official, she a lady of leisure who spends her time crashing expensive cars. Bernard’s childhood nanny/current housekeeper…

Summary

Rating

Poor

Farce is a really tricky genre and the director has yet to nail it down. I feel like the area between wacky and annoyingly over-the-top actually isn’t that big – this production may have got it wrong, but wasn’t miles away from the target.

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Changing Rooms revolves around the well-to-do haute-societé couple Bernard (Kevin Marchant) and Jacqueline (Maria de Lima). He is an ambitious government official, she a lady of leisure who spends her time crashing expensive cars. Bernard’s childhood nanny/current housekeeper (Jill Stanford) rounds off the household. Each wishes to get rid of the other two to spend the night with their young lovers (in the case of Bernard & Jacqueline) or all by themselves (in the case of Nana).

This is the set-up, you know the drill after that; big fibs, things go missing and someone gets caught in their underwear. The lovers Brigitte and Robert are played by Anna Lukis and Milan Alexander, who certainly look the part of young, hot thing although they have been given little to play on beyond that.

For me, the evening started off well; complimentary mulled wine, sexy French pre-show music, simple set with lots of doors setting the tone for farce fun – tick, tick, tick. However, as the evening went on, my enthusiasm dipped somewhat. The performances were definitely high energy (tick) and there were a couple of genuine belly laughs (there goes my pen making that flicking motion again) BUT, and this is one of those big buts, the over-egged acting meant I spent most of the time cringing.

That is not to say that I went to a farce expecting earnest and sincere soliloquies that pondered existentialism. I know what farce is – it’s mania from start to finish and the acting style should reflect this – I wasn’t hoping for naturalism, just something I could hang my hat on, some connection to be found with the characters who spend the whole time one heartbeat from complete undoing.

This brings me onto the character of Nana – our point of view as an audience – the all-seeing, all-knowing puppet master who holds the fate of her employers in her hands. This was an interesting take on the notion of dramatic irony in farce – i.e. who knows what. For me, it didn’t really work though. I never felt the world of the characters was that unstable given we had the unscrupulous Nana at the helm throughout – the show lost some of the chaotic charm of farce. However, this is hardly something the current production had control over.

The last and final bone to pick with this show is that it made no effort to create an offstage world. It’s hard to spend much time imagining the shenanigans of the various couples in the bedrooms when every time they open the door, you have to stare at the great, big wooden braces that hold up the flats. Given the amount of times the doors are used in the play, the effect was jarring. It was like ripping Santa’s beard off, and Christmas isn’t over yet.

This all being said, there is plenty going for this production. I felt that the over-the-top style missed the mark but since it’s farce, there might be those who enjoyed it and actually some tweaking of this show would have changed my rating of this show significantly. I was also very pleased to see a fringe theatre packed out, and I am eager to see what director Ostergren comes up with this next – her better works are sure to come.

Author: Marc Camoletti
Translators: Jonathan Holloway and Anthony Wood
Director: Anna Ostergren
Booking Link: http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/search/searchVenueDetails.asp?venue_id=28680
Booking Until: 21st December 2013

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