Les Hommes Dans Robes De Chambre is proof positive that actors are not the best people to write about acting profession.
Backstage during World War II Arnold Thacker (Trevor Hancock) and Billy Langthorn (Darren John Langford) await the call to play the gravediggers in Hamlet. A direct hit on the theatre during an air raid traps them in their dressing room. Unable to escape Arnold and Billy have to use their acting skills to take their minds off the situation.
Hancock and Langford are on writing duties as well and whilst they are able to give some depth to the characters, perfomance-wise, their script leaves Arnold and Billy under-developed. This can be an advantage in comedy, as audiences feel more comfortable laughing at the misfortunes of broad, cartoon-like, characters.Thus, the best sequences in Les Hommes are the slapstick moments.
When the humour is drawn from the characters or the situation in which they are placed, the play becomes less successful. Without convincing characters around which to build the humour, the first half of the play becomes little more than a string of jokes - funny but not completely satisfying.
Little attention is paid to the context of the play, which means that there is little to connect with. We infer that Thacker and Billy are exempt from conscription by virtue of their age (one too old and the other too young). Even so, it is hard to accept that neither of them would express an opinion on the War, their luck in avoiding the conflict or perhaps the role of entertainment in such circumstances.
The couple seem to have little interest in anything - including their craft - which makes it hard for the audience to have much sympathy.
Director Alan Pattison does not exploit the comedic nature of the material, as too much time passes between comic set-up and the pay-off. Wordless sequences of the actors applying make-up strain patience in an already over-long play.
The opening - in which Thacker grooms himself to ponderous background music -makes us think that it might be an examination of the mundane aspects of life. As a result it takes time before we feel comfortable enough to laugh at the jokes.
Although the script is a disappointment, the acting is very good, as both Hancock and Langford have a gift for physical comedy and it is a treat to see slapstick routines performed live without benefit of camera tricks. A simple attempt by Thacker to hang up his hat ends with him becoming entangled with the coat rack and trying to casually ignore the situation when Billy enters. Billy's method of brewing tea in a hot water bottle is all the more funny for being wordless.
Ultimately though, Les Hommes Dans Robes De Chambre is a frustrating play, in which the script and direction do not do justice to some fine performances.