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Monsieur Popular review at Ustinov Studio, Bath – ‘attractive French farce’

Nicola Sloane, Gregory Gudgeon and Charlotte Wakefield in Monsieur Popular at the Ustinov Studio, Bath. Photo: Simon Annand Nicola Sloane, Gregory Gudgeon and Charlotte Wakefield in Monsieur Popular at the Ustinov Studio, Bath. Photo: Simon Annand
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When this rarely performed French farce by the prolific Eugene Marin Labiche was first shipped across the Channel in 1880 to play London`s Gaiety Theatre, it met with something of a mixed reception. The critic from The Times, for one, was worried about the “somewhat questionable” nature of the plot, but still deemed it an overall success.

Opening a season of French farce at Bath’s Ustinov Studio – with a work from master farceur Georges Feydeau still to come – Jeremy Sams’ translation also adds a musical element, so while the modern critic might still have concerns about a narrative built around the single joke of a womaniser whose formula for success is to befriend the husbands, he or she could not fail to be additionally entertained by Sams’ saucy songs, which are put across with great panache by the eight-strong cast. The best of these is, rather tongue-in-cheek, about the delights of marriage, for the roue in question is about to settle down with an 18-year-old wife. First, though, he must slough off the attentions of the two credulous husbands of his most recent lovers.

Some of his manoeuvres quickly become rather tedious, but the excellent cast come to the rescue time and again with their bold and buoyant approach. Raymond Coulthard, as the Lothario, is particularly at ease both with the innuendoes and his asides to the audience, while Gregory Gudgeon and Howard Ward ensure his cuckolded friends are richly eccentric characters right on the very edge of being believable.

Polly Sullivan`s opulent town and country sets make sumptuous French-design use of the smallish Ustinov stage, with Stephen Matthews and Karoline Gable, as the two singing servants, rearranging the furniture with great aplomb.

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Verdict
An attractive opening to the Ustinov's autumn season of French farce
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