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CHASE ME UP FARNDALE AVENUE, S’IL VOUS PLAIT. Bath Unity Players, Rondo Theatre, 17th May 2013

Directed by Les Goodwin

 

Graeme Savage reports :

 

Once again, the Bath Unity Players turned to Farndale Avenue series of plays for their Spring production, following up 2011’s ...Macbeth with Chase Me Up Farndale Avenue, S’il Vous Plait, which sees the hapless ladies of the Farndale WI attempt a French farce.

 

As always with Bath Unity Players, the performers couldn’t be faulted for their enthusiasm and energy, which with only 5 performers playing countless roles between them, meant that some of them were barely off stage, with many quick costume changes and false entrances thrown in for good measure.

 

The tone was set from the start, as the lights failed to go down, the music came in at the wrong time and the set was revealed with doors in the wrong places, switches that worked inappropriately and the opening scene being interrupted almost immediately! What followed was a riot of under-rehearsed farce, with some very well-timed moments of slapstick - the highlight for me being the collapsing door, which worked perfectly. All the performers were clear in their speaking voices, if at times it was difficult to keep track of who was playing whom, due to the nature of the plot.

 

The pace was suitably frenetic from the start, but this in itself also caused some of the problems which the production as a whole faced. Whereas the other Farndale Avenue plays have been based on well known plays (The Mikado and Macbeth in particular), the fact that the ‘play within a play’ which the Farndale ladies were attempting to produce had no really identifiable characters to relate to, the play (for me) started very quickly to become silly rather than funny. Plays with similar ‘disastrous productions’ such as 'Noises Off' and 'Acorn Antiques' have very clear ideas of what was supposed to be happening before things started going wrong. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case with this script, as the mistakes begin before we’ve established what is really supposed to be happening. As I remember mentioning in the Macbeth report some of the things which go wrong (in this case, the door being half way up the wall, the action being interrupted for a baking demonstration, the continual references to the affair taking place in the lighting box, etc.) just feel too removed from reality to connect with, and (again just in my personal opinion), once that disconnection with the characters and the action has occurred, it becomes very difficult to really enjoy the work. This was a shame, as the cast (and the backstage crew, with all the props and door cues) were absolutely working their collective socks off, and in Lynda Tucker and Katrina and Ian Cowie, have some (in my experience) very accomplished comedy and pantomime performers who at times felt like they were stranded as the script repeated the same gags.

 

It is frustrating also, as Bath Unity are always a very welcoming company and well supported by their long-standing audience members and families. It must be said that the audience were having great fun, watching their friends, and if the laughter generated from this relatively small audience could be bottled and given out on the NHS, we’d all be in much better health! Despite my issues with the script itself, if the energy and enthusiasm shown by this small cast in ‘Chase Me Up...’ can be translated into their annual pantomime, after last year’s excellent Jack and the Beanstalk, then Bath Unity will be able to provide us with a delightful start to the Christmas season!