Review: Don’t Dress for Dinner

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Don't Dress for Dinner - Theatre on the BayNo one does farce like the French… except perhaps the South Africans. From the grating Jo’burg accents to the faux fur lamps and over-sized wildlife portraits, these details are just one of the many comedic devices set to make you laugh in this entertaining romp.

Based on the French play by Marc Camoletti, Don’t Dress for Dinner has been transplanted from its original setting just outside Paris to a suitably South African one, namely that of Hoedspruit where the sound of a thousand buzzing insects greets you the moment you step out of your car.  This latter aspect often works to the characters’ advantage in this tale of forbidden love affairs and mistaken identities.

Married couple Jackie and Bernie are on a weekend getaway. Bernie is desperately trying to get rid of his wife under the pretence that he wants to spend the weekend with his best mate Rob. Although this is true enough, it has been devised as a cover up for his real motive: a romantic weekend with his mistress Suzy. Meanwhile Jackie, who is secretly having an affair with Rob, decides to stay when she finds out he is on his way. The whole mess is thrown into further disarray with the arrival of the cordon bleu chef, who is also named Suzy.

Director Steven Stead masterfully orchestrates the resulting dilemmas, leading the diverse characters with pace and verve through stylised plotting while the physical comedy is brought to life by the actors’ relentless energy. Greg King’s richly detailed set invokes the colours and tone of a typical safari lodge with all its attendant clichés, and similarly the characters are all recognisable stereotypes, vividly realised through meticulous details such as carefully coiffed hair, an expensive Chanel coat and colourful local accents.  The cast shares great chemistry and all have moments that will make you laugh, but the stand-out performances are certainly those of Robert Fridjhon and James Cuningham, who delight the audience with looks of abject horror and physical awkwardness.

The myriad plots weave an intricate and complicated tangle which the writer gleefully forces the characters to explain at intervals in fast-paced summaries. Superbly delivered by the actors, it has the audience rolling in the aisles while reminding them that the writer knows exactly what is going on with his story and has a firm grasp on all the plot threads. Don’t Dress for Dinner is more than highly entertaining: it is hysterical.  And it does not preach or moralise or pull you into yet another existential crisis. It invites you to just sit down, have a laugh and remember that local is still lekker.

Claudia Hauter

Don’t Dress for Dinner runs from 17 April to 11 May 2013 at Theatre on the Bay. Details here.

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