Rabies, revenge and ribaldry make for a zany couple of hours in the company of the Bartholomew Players at Eynsham Village Hall.
The Players have been concentrating on comedies and feel-good drama of late, in contrast to their more serious phase of a few years ago. And this version of Le Procès Veauradieux, directed by Gareth Hammond, could hardly be less po-faced - it even features bona fide trouser-dropping (although nothing more salacious than longjohns are revealed) as well as the tried and tested formula of mistaken identities, improbable excuses and sharp exits.
The Players’ staging of Reggie Oliver’s adaptation of this French play (changed from 1875 to an Edwardian setting) features not only four new members, but also a new sound and lighting system; as was clear with their last production, this drama group is on a roll.
Lust is constantly thwarted as the medley of characters (or rather, caricatures) - a harassed lawyer, his interfering mother-in-law, his ex-cook, a lecherous uncle and another legal eagle - converges on a house of loose morals. The first act is a tad slow for a farce, but in the second the pace picks up briskly and the slapstick ensues. By the third act, it is difficult to keep up with the mayhem - and innuendoes - as each of the key characters finds themselves in jeopardy.
Joseph O’Connor (previously with Oxford Theatre Guild and adroit in this role) takes the helm as the lawyer Fauvinard, veering between cunning and cowardice as he plots his secret assignations with woman of easy virtue Cesarine (played with obvious relish by the exuberant Claire Johnson). His real-life wife Kate Astley O’Connor (also ex-OTG) is suitably pained and bemused as Fauvinard’s spouse Angele. A constant presence is the bossy and suspicious mother-in-law (Lesley Robinson), who in turn is the target of randy Gatinet (Steve Ashcroft); he raises plenty of chortles as he gets to chase her around the stage.
Sean Moore is ably cast as Fauvinard’s sidekick Tardivaut - particularly when his mime skills are called on. Rory Phillips - who took the lead role in the Players’ last production, The Importance of Being Earnest - is another strong cast member as the debonair client of Fauvinard; Caroline Knight, who was an imperious Lady Bracknell in the last production, demonstrates her versatility here with a more demure character, Madame de Bagnolles.
Rob Wondrak - who is also the stage manager - is amusing as a police commissioner with limited abilities and a faintly absurd costume. Sharon Williams dithers as woolly-headed maid Fanchette and servant Sophie (Ellina Mikhailova) is tasked with tackling an angry poodle. Credit is due to Denise Santilli, who has stepped into the part of surly cook Thérèse at short notice and puts in a confident performance.
The decision to adopt comic French accents might divide opinion, but this production is another which is likely to prove a crowd-pleaser.
Paul Stammers, Oxford Daily Info
This play, a typical French farce was well presented with all the complications and innuendos of this genre of play. The unfamiliarity of the French names made it a little difficult to keep track of who had done what and to whom, but overall the result was fast-paced and enjoyable.
The play revolved around Fauvinard a young lawyer and roué, played excellently, and slightly camp, by Joseph O’Connor. He headed the cast and had great stage presence and mannerisms and kept up the French accent unfailingly throughout. His accomplice in his affairs, Tardivaut, a slightly dishevelled fellow lawyer (Sean Moore) was a good foil to Fauvinard. The ever-present,stately, snooping mother-in-law was brilliantly played by doyen of the group, Lesley Robinson, who was a tour-de- force, with great presence which overwhelmed everyone and left them cowering in their boots. Not least of which was her cowed daughter, Angèle, suitably under-played by Kate Astley O’Connor.
The plot is further complicated by Fauvinard’s uncle, Gatinet (Steve Ashcroft), whose sleep apnoea, whenever he sits down, causes hilarity and embarrassment. Gatinet has recommended Fauvinard to an acquaintance, Madame de Bagnolles, played by Caroline Knight, who wishes to divorce her husband for infidelity (with, it turns out, the same lover as Fauvinard).
With Act II, all seems to be going well with the secret assignations at the apartment of Césarine, Fauvinard’s lover. That is, until everyone else appears, including his mother-in-law and his former disgruntled cook, Thérèse, played suitably venomously by Denise Santilli, after being sacked following an argument with the dreaded mother-in-law. Césarine, played outrageously and seductively by Claire Johnson attired in saucy period underwear, seemed to have a string of callers, including De Bagnolles, (Rory Phillips) against whom Fauvinard is acting on behalf of his wife. Tardivaut appears as he is having an affair with his lover who is in the apartment above.
There were some nice moments in Césarine’s apartment with various people being locked in her bedroom to avoid unfortunate meetings, frenzied comings and goings, a vicious poodle which attacks anyone who dared to enter. It ends with Fauvinard being ordered to remove his jacket and trousers by the Commissioner of Police (Rob Wondrack) to stop him running away whilst questioning takes place.
The set was imaginative, with effective changes from Fauvinard’s study to Césarine’s apartment. Good use was made of minimal furniture for both scenes. The set could have benefitted from a drugget to reduce the thunderous footfall, which a fast-moving play like this creates. The costumes were, on the whole, very good, apart from one or two anomalies.
The use of Offenbach’s music was very appropriate and generally the sound was good. Not too sure about the pedigree of the dog!
Apart from first night hiccups with the lights and curtain, the whole production was most enjoyable and Bartholomew Players have come on in leaps and bounds over the past few years. Nigel James, ODN News
PlayersWhat a treat to be invited to this wonderful production of ‘Once Bitten’ adapted by Reggie Oliver from the original French stage play by Alfred Hennequin and Alfred Delacour. This was the Bartholomew Players autumn production and was staged in the rather attractive setting of Eynsham Village Hall. The group is lucky indeed to have such an appealing venue in which to perform with a ‘proper’ stage and very rich looking ‘tabs’. A lively evening’s entertainment soon followed which quickly displaced memories of the cold and rainy evening outside.
This was typical French farce with lots of comings and goings, mistaken identities, double entendres and general mayhem plus a vicious, yapping French poodle thrown in for good measure. Some of the French accents were rather strong and exaggerated which sometimes made the dialogue a little hard to follow but generally the whole production was tight and well paced. The actors worked well together and made good use of the stage. Some noisy footwear was quite distracting on a couple of occasions and the set might have benefitted from some extra floor covering to deaden the sound. However, here was a group of talented comic actors who kept the disappointingly small first night audience hugely entertained.
This was very much an ensemble piece and so I hope my comments reflect that fact.
Fauvinard, a less than successful lawyer was played with relish by Joseph O’Connor. Excellent comic timing and - being on stage for most of the production - he had a huge amount of dialogue to deliver. I liked your facial expressions and the accent was convincing and well maintained. Excellent false moustache too!
Sean Moore played his friend and fellow lawyer, Tardivaut. Sean had a very relaxed and easy stage presence and the character was well maintained throughout. Again, a very convincing French accent although I missed some of his dialogue on occasions through lack of projection.
Fanchette - Fauvinards dim-witted and obtuse maid - was played with good comic timing by Sharon Williams. A marvellously ‘straight-faced’ performance with good stage presence and accent.
Fauvinards battle-axe mother-in-law, Madame Laiguisier, was captured well by Lesley Robinson. She did an excellent job of ‘ruling the roost’. There was strong characterisation and good diction but I felt the French accent slipped once or twice.
Madame Laiguisier’s daughter and the long-suffering, timid wife of Fauvinard - Angèle - was played with innocent charm by Kate Astley O’Connor. I liked your comic timing and facial expressions.
Denise Santilli’s portrayal of vengeful cook, Therese, was brilliantly realised. I liked your facial expressions and mannerisms. Very funny! Also, according to the programme, Denise joined the cast at quite a late point in the rehearsal period, so to achieve such a rounded performance was no mean feat!
I liked Steve Ashcroft’s interpretation of the lecherous and narcoleptic uncle – Gatinet. His sudden lapses into sleep whenever he sat down were very funny. Good stage presence and clear diction.
Fauvinard’s client - Madame de Bagnolles – was played demurely by Caroline Knight, perfectly capturing the character of the ‘wronged wife’.
Her erring husband, De Bagnolles, was played convincingly by Rory Phillips with good stage presence and facial expressions.
Cesarine – Fauvinard’s lover - was played outrageously by Claire Johnson, resplendent in period underwear! This was a first rate interpretation and very funny with wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions while maintaining good diction throughout.
Her maid – Sophie – was played well by Ellina Mikhailova – who incidentally is also credited with responsibility for make-up in the programme. Here was another ‘dead-pan’ maid with good comic timing and some very funny facial expressions.
Finally we saw the bone-headed Commissioner of Police played with great hilarity by Rob Wondrak. I liked this very funny portrayal of a dim-witted policeman. This was a very nice cameo role.
Director – Gareth Hammond – had assembled a strong cast of comic actors to realise his ‘vision’. The direction was sure-footed and the characters were all well rounded and clearly defined. The action moved along well – as it should in a farce – and the pace was excellent. Good use was made of the acting area and entrances and exits were all smooth. You achieved some great performances from your actors. I also liked your very informative programme notes, Gareth.
The lighting by Graham Diacon and Deborah Lisburne Diacon was simple but effective as the plot did not call for an elaborate lighting plan.
The sound was ably handled by Tony Robinson who re-created the afore-mentioned poodle’s yapping and snarling to great effect. When the dead body of the fearsome sounding pooch was brought on stage I was quite disappointed by how small he was!! Brilliant sound effects!
Tricia Leopold and Judith Essery had assembled some authentic looking props which were handled well by the cast.
The costumes looked wonderful, I thought, and quite in keeping with the piece. Juliet New had obviously worked hard to achieve an authentic look. It wasn’t clear from the programme as to the source of the costumes, but they all look clean and fitted well.
Hair and make-up:
The hair design, which was very good and looked very much in period, was in the capable hands of Sue Greenwood and Joanna Buckle. The make-up looked natural and had been applied well.
Graham Diacon and his team had constructed a functional - yet imaginative – set. There was a lot of attention paid to detail in the painting of the flats. This was particularly striking in the ‘book shelves’ which formed the back drop to Fauvinard’s study. The set was changed very effectively into Cesarines apartment with good use of space and was not cluttered with unnecessary furniture. There was even a period looking upright piano stage left!! I’m assuming that all your scenery was ‘home-grown’ so please, if you do construct all - or any of - your future sets, take a few pictures (without actors) with a view to a nomination for a NODA scenic award.
The Programme and Poster:
This was a good quality programme with design by Steve Ashcroft. There were informative background notes about the production and some interesting biographies from cast members together with a few pointers on how to become involved in the group’s activities. I liked the poster design also, by Tessa Hammond - a modified version of which was used to great effect on the front cover of the programme.
May I finally thank everyone associated with the production for a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment and wish you every success with your next production in May 2015.
Rob Bertwistle, NODA
Cast in order of appearance