‘Fast, furious and fun’ – Happy Birthday at the Abbey Theatre

PUBLISHED: 00:25 03 July 2018

The Company of Ten presents Marc Camoletti'’s Happy Birthday at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Nick Clarke.

The Company of Ten presents Marc Camoletti'’s Happy Birthday at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Nick Clarke.

Abbey Theatre

Madeleine Burton reviews Company of Ten’s production of farce Happy Birthday at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Happy Birthday can be seen at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Nick Clarke / Abbey TheatreHappy Birthday can be seen at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Nick Clarke / Abbey Theatre

Fast, furious and fun – all the elements you would expect from farce can be found in the Company of Ten’s production of Happy Birthday.

The play by Marc Camoletti, author of Boeing Boeing, is not as funny as the Italian playwright’s masterpiece but it is still packed with mistaken identities, misunderstandings and more doors and bedrooms than any house should have.

With a cast of only five, Happy Birthday demands a lot of the actors and they all rise to the challenge.

And if the reason it is called Happy Birthday is somewhat obscure, it does not detract from the quintessential Englishness of the play adapted by Beverley Cross.

Basically it focuses on a married couple, Bernard and Jacqueline, both of whom are cheating, Bernard’s goofy best friend Robert, who is having an affair with Jacqueline, and two women named Brigit.

Of course it is the confusion caused by the latter two characters having the same names that is at the heart of the play.

Melanie Wall is splendid as Brigit 1, who arrives at the house as a temporary maid and is immediately roped in to pretending to be Robert’s girlfriend.

Several permutations later, during which time she has had to pretend to be his niece instead, all becomes clear.

Melanie milks Brigit 1 for every possible laugh and succeeds so well that her appearances on the stage are the high spot – particularly when she dons the outfit she deems suitable for the evening.

Ben Tiplady is a delightfully jumpy Robert and his role is undoubtedly the most demanding.

It is to his credit how well he carries it off.

Jessica Davies is a little minx as Brigit 2, and Liam Morton and Chloe Brown as Bernard and Jacqueline have just the right touch of immoral upper middle class snobbishness.

Self-confessed lover of farce, Roger Scales, directs with aplomb, bringing out the best in his cast and confirming his own comment in the programme notes that if you can successfully play farce you can consider yourself an actor.

It would also be true to say that if you can successfully direct farce, you can consider yourself to be a very good director.

Happy Birthday is being performed on the Abbey Theatre main stage until Saturday, July 7.

Tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk

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