How very long ago the 1970s feel! Was life really as two-dimensional then (theatrical life, that is)? Marc Camolett’s farces filled London theatres for years at a time in their various English versions, notably Don’t Dress for Dinner and Boeing Boeing. Now a new adaptation by Jonathan Holloway and Anthony Wood takes to the stage in the guise of Changing Rooms.
It’s something of a coup for Frinton’s summer theatre and Holloway directs with obvious affection. The plot offers everything you’d expect from a French farce of the period – a well-to-do couple each with an extra-marital interest and an earthy housekeeper with her own agenda. We’re never allowed to forget that this isn’t the 21st century. One landline telephone, no mobiles or netbooks (of course), a salt-of-the-earth former nanny now the bonne à toute faire, Concorde still a matter for Government negotiations and somehow no-one actually manages to consummate a relationship.
Bernard and Jacqueline’s Paris flat has all the doors this sort of plot requires. Through them, with split-second timing, come and go the not-so-happily married couple, her toyboy Robert and his latest almost-conquest Brigitte. Nana meanwhile tries to keep everyone in the approximate place and reasonable order while putting aside a considerable nestegg in bribes.
It’s Nia Davies’ performance as Nana, whether print-overalled or fluffily bedgowned, which provides most of the comedy. Harry Gostelow as Bernard tries just a little too hard to be funny, though Philip Benjamin is attractively gangly as the somewhat-out-of-his-depth Robert. There’s a predatory gleam in Laura Wells’ eye as she lassoes Jacqueline’s latest fancy while Stephanie Day is pertly decorative as Brigitte, who turns out to be really quite an ingenious sort of ingénue.
The audience on the first night laughed, but not quite enough. The cast works hard for those laughs, and deserves them. It’s just that this is a period piece trapped between an audience’s sense for nostalgia and the fact that its particular vintage hasn’t yet matured properly. Isn’t there a proverb about old wine and new bottles?