by Eugene Marin Labiche
New translation by Jeremy Sams
Director / Composer Jeremy Sams
Designer Polly Sullivan
Ustinov Studio, at Theatre Royal, Bath
Saturday 16th October 2015 14.30
Adelina (Celimare’s maidservant) – Karoline Gable
Pitois (Celimare’s manservant) – Stephen Matthews
Columbat (faher-in-law) – Iain Mitchell
Celimare – Raymond Coulthard
Vernouillet – Gregory Gudgeon
Bocardon – Howard Ward
Madame Columbat (mother-in-law)– Nichola Sloane
Emma (Celimare’s fiancée / wife) – Charlotte Wakefield
Celimare le bien-amié (retitled Monsieur Popular) is one of 175 plays written by Eugene-Marin Labiche, (1815-1888) who preceded Feydeau in French farce. It was first produced in Paris in 1863, and was thought far too rude when first performed in London in 1880. This new translation is by Jeremy Sams, who also directed and composed the music … it’s full of songs. Labiche is best-known for An Italian Straw Hat.
Pitois (Stephen Matthews) checks Celimare (Raymond Coulthard) for grey hairs before the wedding
It’s Celimare’s wedding day. He’s 47, his bride is 18, and he needs to destroy a box of love letters. Celimare has spent his life seducing married women, and does so by making their unsuspecting husbands into his best friends. He has two lots of love letters to destroy urgently. Madame Bocardon has been his paramour of the last six months, and Madame Vernouillet was the squeeze of the previous five years, before dying in a tragic mushroom poisoning incident. Her widower can’t understand why Celimare has stopped calling daily since her death.
Celimare’s in-laws are rightly suspicious of him because of his age, but are pleased by his wealth. He has not invited the widower Vernouillet, nor Monsieur and Madame Bocandon to the wedding breakfast … his mother-in-law’s preserve. Both Vernouillet and Bocandon arrive in turn to berate him for this, but he must avoid the vengeful Madame Bocandon … she gets locked in a linen cupboard. She is never seen in the play,. though an arm appears around a door before it’s slammed shut. The two cuckolds get invited to the wedding. The in-laws take at once to the noisy, gregarious Bocardon, but everyone loathes the self-centred, sorry-for-himself crashing bore, Vernouillet.
L rot R: Mdm Colombat (Nichola Sloane), Vernouillet (Gregory Gudgeon), Emma (Charlotte Wakefield)
Scene two is the day after the wedding where the family meal for four is interrupted by the arrival of the cuckolds in turn. Celimare weaves tall stories about Vernouillet, who has brought photographs of himself as gifts for the family. Celimare needs to justify Vernouillet’s presence after being caught in what looks like a compromising position (it isn’t) massaging Vernouillet’s lower back … his expertise as an amateur physiotherapist had been his route into Vernouillet’s confidence. He paints Vernouillet as a hero.
Scene three, after the interval, is the conservatory of the country house the happy couple and in-laws have rented to escape Paris and the two husbands. Of course, each of the cuckolds finds them in turn.
Scene 3: Bocardon (Howard Ward) and Emma.
That’s the basic plot. Add discoveries, near escapes, each of the cuckolds believing the other one is the cuckold, not him. It’s an excellent neat farce.
It has aspects that interested me stylistically. Celimare (superbly played by Raymond Coulthard) is no Brian Rix type, but a smooth, suave though vain man. He takes the audience into his confidence with asides, and these can be made mid-conversation with other characters who don’t notice. A lot of the humour resides in this … I was reminded of Lurcio the slave / narrator in Up Pompeii though Celimare is far, far smoother. Coulthard has a lovely way with raised eyebrows and expressions, and while he gently points the many double entendres, it’s nowhere near as broad as Frankie Howard’s Lurcio. Some he barely points as when Bocardon is talking about his savage Great Dame dog and Vernouillet does the old seaside postcard line, ‘Oh, really? My wife had a cockatoo.’ Celimare can also interact with audience response (Really? when they laugh at an obvious crude one). I admired his farce work greatly. We still remember him as Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure at the RSC and this is such a contrast.
Scene 3: L to R: Celimare, Bocardon and Colombat (Iain Mitchell)
The two cuckolds are also contrasted. Their lack of awareness of Celimare’s deceptions gets funnier and funnier … I loved the story about Bocardon’s Great Dane who is inordinately fond of Celimare. Bocardon once came home and the dog rushed excitedly to his wife’s bedroom where it found Celimare in the wardrobe. He had hidden there to test the dog’s sense of smell, says Bocardon.
Emma and Celimare
Emma (Charlotte Wakefield) is particularly good – being the straight part amidst comedy is always the difficult one, and she has to stay straight to make it all work.
The Ustinov has a small square stage, and they managed three elaborate sets, though I’d question whether Scenes 1 and 2 needed to be different rooms. The set has multiple doors, far more than needed, but that’s what farces are about. As a lover of farce from Feydau to Brian Rix and beyond, I was fascinated to see an earlier play, and very good it was. Full marks to Jeremy Sams who also wrote the lively songs which punctuate it. After The Rehearsal at Chichester earlier this year, it was Sams name as translator and director that led us to book this one.
SEE ALSO ON THIS BLOG:
Raymond Coulthard was Vincentio in the RSC 2012 production of Measure for Measure (LINKED)