Publisher Pierre Brochant and his wealthy friends enjoy a cruel and unusual pastime. Every Tuesday, they host a dinner to which each must invite the most stupid person they can find. This week, Pierre thinks he's discovered the "world champion" idiot, unsuspecting accountant François Pignon. The play opens just before François arrives, for some pre-dinner party vetting, at Pierre's elegant cream-coloured Paris apartment where his elegant cream-clad wife is preparing to leave him.
Given the precedent set in the minds of London audiences by the import of a string of Yasmina Reza's careful constructions, you might be tempted to imagine that this latest French comedy will exhibit the same combination of dry wit, flair and sophistication. But no, I refer you back to the title. Despite the trappings of Pierre's success on display in Liz Ascroft's fine apartment set, there's nothing sophisticated about See U Next Tuesday.
More unforgivable in a comedy than a lack of sophistication, however, is a lack of humour. Although I'm told Le Diner de Cons, Francis Veber's French film based on his original 1993 play, is hilarity itself, I'm afraid Ronald Harwood's new English adaptation fails on that score, too. Perhaps it wants to be a farce - and there are moments in Robin Lefevre's production when the pace almost meets those demands - but the zaniness is always that bit underpowered (just how far can you go these days with the bad back device?), tailing off entirely in the limp second half.
Harwood doesn't seem the only one challenged linguistically. Just about every character is dubbed either a bastard or a twat, while several of those doing the name-calling - not least Nigel Havers' Pierre - appear distinctly uncomfortable uttering the latter put-down. Who can blame them? And is this a word that really drops quite so repeatedly into most people's conversation? With overuse here, it loses all impact.
Despite these disappointments, See U Next Tuesday is a reasonably diverting if totally undemanding evening's entertainment. And, as the buttoned up, octave-plunging, matchstick-modelling François, Irish comedian Ardal O'Hanlon is good value, proving that he has a talent to amuse far beyond Father Ted. Elsewhere, Geoffrey Hutchings as an overzealous tax inspector contributes to the play's funnier moments, but the less said about Patsy Kensit's nymphomaniac mistress the better.
- Terri Paddock