BWW REVIEW: THE UNDERPANTS Is A Fabulously Funny Farce Centred On Events Following The Failing Of Foundation Garments
Saturday 2nd November 2019, 2pm, Reginald Theatre Seymour Centre
Anthony Gooley (Director) delivers a delightfully entertaining expression of Steve Martin's play THE UNDERPANTS. Adapted from Carl Sternheim's 1920 farce DIE HOSE, middle class morality and German sensibilities play out on the Seymour stage to roars of laughter.
Set in Early 20th century Germany, THE UNDERPANTS centers on the aftermath of young housewife Louise Maske (Gabrielle Scawthorn) loosing her bloomers while watching the King's procession through town. Older husband Theo (Duncan Fellows) is less concerned about his wife's well-being, focusing instead on whether it will impact his position as a government clerk and therefore derail his plans for making enough money to finance starting a family. While Louise attempts to convince her controlling misogynistic husband that no one noticed her wayward undergarments, the peculiarities of the prospective tenants for their spare room suggest more people than Louise hoped noticed her momentary exposure.
Production designer Anna Gardiner has created a striking expression of the Maske's living room come kitchen and dining room with bold magenta walls with pink trim and vintage wooden furniture. To allow for a window with a view and a foyer beyond the front door while maximizing the feeling of space, Gardiner implies the position of walls with artifacts like the portrait of the Kaiser Wilhelm, Pendulum clock and crucifix suspended from a picture rail positioned a distance in front of the wall. The small oven and stove, sink and sideboard that seem to make up the extent of Louise's kitchen give an idea of the scale and economic situation of the new middle class family making it believable that Theo would be trying to earn an extra buck renting out their spare room. The costuming captures the spirit of the characters, from Theo's boring and brown suit to Suave Italian Poet Frank Versati's (Ben Gerrard) colourful and well-tailored ensemble and rival, the pathetic and poorly, Benjamin Cohen's (Robin Goldsworthy) ill-fitted and shabby black suit and heavily scuffed boots.Martin's text includes clever detailed dialogue that displays a wit and wisdom which elevates the work from amusing fluff to intelligent comedy that uses the stereotypes and satirical expression to highlight the absurdities and hypocrisies of the emerging middle classes along with the outdated views on women that men like Theo have tried to hold on to. Gooley merges this text with a direction that focuses on amusing slap stick physicality to enhance the already absurd plot and heighten the melodrama. Scawthorn is fabulous as the young wife who is torn between the old-world expectations of a dutiful wife looking after the home and having dreams of her own, looking out to the street below or admiring her caged pet bird. She exudes the innocence of a young bride badgered into submission by an insulting and obnoxious husband. This repression is contrasted with the growth she experiences with the aid of nosey neighbor and best friend, the older 'spinster' Gertrude (Beth Daly) as the older woman convinces her to accept Versati's advances and 'live a little'. Daly brings her over the top comic expression to Gertrude with a hilarious deliberation and passion to create an impression of an excitable woman looking for something interesting in her life.
As Theo, Fellows plays up the stereotype of German efficiency along with a seriousness and inability to spot inuendo and humour. He ensures that the audience are on Louise's side, supporting her desire for some passion and respect in her life as the self centred Theo won't provide it. While Scawthorn and Daly don't really try for any Germanic inflection, which suits the production, Fellows manages an appropriate twinge of an accent without turning the role into a caricature which helps to give the work a sense of location beyond the setting implied by the presence of the last German Emperor's portrait.Ben Gerrard is hilarious as the intense Italian poet who was inspired to see Louise as his new muse. His facial expressions and his physically ooze lothario making the seduction played out in innuendo and double entendre, even more amusing. The fight between Gerrard and Goldsworthy as the two 'suitors' wrestle on the floor is laugh out loud funny as Gooley has directed it as a cinematic slow motion. Goldsworthy ensures that Cohen is a complete contrast to Versati and Theo, holding a feeble physicality and nervousness that is highlighted when next to Versati's confidence and grace and Theo's posturing attempts to prove his masculinity.
THE UNDERPANTS is a fun, absurd piece of comic theatre that will have you bursting with laughter while it highlights views on women the 21st century hopes are diminishing. An easy night of escapist entertainment.
Photos: David Hooley