PLAYTIME at the Royal and Derngate Theatre
“delightful entertainment of gentle comedy”
Dancing Brick presents a stage adaptation of the legendary film by Jacques Tati. An unlikely undertaking at first thought with the film’s notoriety for excessive detail, a myriad of characters, and almost no plot nor dialogue. And yet Co-Directors Valentina Ceschi and Thomas Eccleshare, with a cast of five (including Ceschi who doubles as an actor too), have created an evening’s triumph of mime and movement.
There is little plot – various people arrive in Paris at the airport, visit the Pour la Maison Paris Expo, stay in a hotel and go to a restaurant before returning to the airport. And there is little spoken dialogue – only occasional words are heard, some in French, some in English.
To start things off, Tati’s great comedic invention, Monsieur Hulot (Enoch Lwanga) enters through the audience. Dressed in his recognisable raincoat and hat, carrying an umbrella (Set & Costume Designer Michael Vale), Lwanga’s languid movements and sad reflective expression set the mood. He gamely blows up a balloon and then lets it down again.
Hulot enters the opening scene in the arrivals lounge (“Arrivee”) of a French airport. Dozens of characters come and go, arriving and departing via an escalator, criss-crossing the stage – a different hat, jacket, suitcase signifying a change in character. There are two nuns, two opposing volleyball teams, holiday makers, a beat combo, paparazzi… It is difficult to believe that this is a cast of just five actors and we shall see many of these characters again before the end of the evening. The humour within the scene is gentle rather than pratfall slapstick and the cast show off their consistently excellent mime skills. Their movement is accompanied by a background of foyer muzak, setting a light comedic tone, and a rhythm for the antics to follow.
One character stands out ahead of the crowd. Barbara (Yuyu Rau) catches the eye of Monsieur Hulot and there begins a burgeoning romance. Together they share a beautiful fantasy dance scene seemingly, and surreally, outside of their adjacent hotel rooms.
The highlight of the evening is an extended scene set in a newly opening restaurant. With non-stop action, the ensemble’s comic timing is impeccable. Characters come and go, a few running gags are followed – a missing cat, a fracas about balloons, an increasingly drunk waiter – the mayhem occasionally breaking out into quirky dance routines. Central to the activity and holding the scene together is the Maitre D’ (Abigail Dooley) who is excellently portrayed with superb characterization.
Two songs are introduced. The first by Chilly Gonzales & Pierre Grillet is beautifully sung live by Valentina Ceschi. The second by Martha Wainwright accompanies the final scene between Hulot and Barbara as they spend time in the park. The atmosphere for the first time is less zany than what has gone before, more melancholic. We realise that Barbara will soon leave and Hulot – the gentle clown – will once again be alone.
As the actors take their well-earned bows, they are joined in a curtain call by the stage management team who undoubtedly have done their bit in the wings to make happen the huge number of costume and prop changes.
Dancing Brick have created a delightful entertainment of gentle comedy maintained by the skill and indefatigable energy of this small ensemble.
Reviewed on 7th September 2022
by Phillip Money
Photography by Manuel Harlan
Previously reviewed at this venue: