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See U Next Tuesday
by Brian Clover

He may be an idiot but in less than an hour he's turned your wife into an adulterer and landed you with a full tax audit.
--- Just LeBlanc
See U  Next Tuesday
Ardal O'Hanlan and Patsy Kensit
(Photo: John Haynes)
Parisian publisher Pierre Brochant (Nigel Havers) has everything: wealth, charm, a successful company, a luxury apartment, a Modligliani on the wall, a beautiful wife and, since he is French, a nymphomaniac mistress. But Pierre adds spice to this already sumptuous life with a cruel hobby. He hunts down fools -- the sad, the inadequate, the losers who compensate for their failed lives with hobbies, the more eccentric and obsessive the better. Each Tuesday Pierre and his friends invite these unfortunates to dinner and compete to see who has found the biggest "twat". ("Con" in the original French, which our Gallic chums press into service in many ways and is both more suggestive and less offensive than any English equivalent.)

And this Tuesday night Pierre has a sure winner: François Pignon (Ardal O'Hanlon), a man whose sole topic of conversation is his matchstick models of great buildings. Civil servant Pignon is the perfect victim, naïve and good-natured, crass and incompetent. But . . . by the end of the evening it is Pierre whose life is shattered. Inoffensive little Pignon has, accidentally, but remorselessly, dragged Pierre to the brink of ruin. Can this "twat" change his spots at the very last minute and save Pierre?

This is the familiar heart-warming scenario of the loser humanising the callous or up-tight snob; think of John Hughes' film work such as Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But French writer Francis Veber can claim to have influenced this school since much of his work has been adapted by Hollywood, from Billy Wilder's last film Buddy Buddy through La Cage aux Folles, Birdcage through to Nick Nolte's Three Fugitives. Le Diner des Cons was a successful play and movie in France and now arrives in the West End with an illustrious cast: Nigel Havers, Ardal O'Hanlon and Patsy Kensit as ditsy mistress Marlene. See U Next Tuesday is a farce in the great tradition, but it is farce-lite with only one set, two main characters and the clever use of a speaker phone. Veber marshals his minimal forces to great effect and it would spoil your enjoyment to give away too much of the plot. It may suffice to say that once the action gets going the house is laughing all the way and there are at least three peak moments of sublime comedy.

Ardal O'Hanlon (star of cult TV series Father Ted) excels as the hapless Pignon: he convincingly combines a puppy's eagerness to please with a goldfish's inability to hold a thought for more than a minute. By turns bashful, prudish, huffy and manic, he also succeeds in projecting the dignity and pain of the inner Pignon in a speech that could so easily turn mawkish.

Nigel Havers (star of Chariots of Fire and Empire of the Sun) as Pierre makes handsome and charming look effortless, which it obviously is not. I would bet that many of the more affluent-looking ladies in the audience ("Havers' Ravers", I heard them called) have trekked in from the Home Counties just to see him and they are guaranteed a good time. But Havers needs more than charm to convey Pierre's steely edge of sadism that may or may not be melted by Pignon's crucible of crassness. However Geoffrey Hutchings does a star turn as tax investigator Cheval who turns from playful porpoise to sinister shark in the blink of an eye. Patsy Kensit debuts on the stage and sparkles as the man-eating mistress, but the rest of the cast give slightly old-fashioned, one-note performances, even when more than one note is needed.

While Liz Ascroft's set design was perfect, Robin Lefevre's direction seems a little uncertain. Stage movement lacked fluency: Nigel Havers' fall did not convince and his crippling back pain had disappeared completely in the second act -- perhaps the medication kicked in. More seriously, on the night I saw it the play was taken at a bit of a rush, shaving more than ten minutes off the advertised run time. Since the opening scene was taken at quite a lick there was no breathing space to display the characters of Pierre and his wife, important if we are to care about them, which we should, even in a farce. As the pace increased many lines disappeared altogether under audience laughter. Perhaps the cast had a party to get to. However, before they left they gave the audience a very good time, though with a little more effort it could have been even better.

See U Next Tuesday
Written by Francis Veber
Adapted by Ronald Harwood
Directed by Robin LeFévre

Starring: Nigel Havers, Ardal O'Hanlon
With: Carol Rotle, Roy Sampson, Patrick Ryecart, Patsy Kensit, Geoffrey Hutchins, Ian Soundy
Designer: Liz Ascroft
Lighting Design: Mick Hughes
Sound Designer: Simon Whitehorn for Orbital
Running time: One hour thirty five minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6621
Booking to 11th January 2004
Reviewed by Brian Clover based on 3rd October 2003 Performance at the Albery Theatre, St Martins Lane, London WC2 (Tube Station: Leicester Square)
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