Left – Ben Gerrard & Gabrielle Scawthorn. Cover – Ben Gerrard, Beth Daly, Gabrielle Scawthorn & Robin Goldworthy. Photos – David Hooley.
It’s snickers over knickers in The Underpants.
Adapted from Carl Sternheim’s original play by American comedian, Steve Martin, The Underpants takes its title and starting point from a pair of dropped drawers.
Louise Maske, while enthusiastically attending a royal parade, has had her pantaloons fall, causing a scandal in her household, which consists of her husband of barely a year, Theo. A boorish bureaucrat, Theo is appalled at his wife’s intimate apparel bringing public shame and potential pecuniary penalty.
Quite the contrary, the incident brings money into the household when two men, both eroticised by the errant elastic and fallen for Louise as freely as her frillies, apply to rent the couple’s spare room. So smitten are Italian poet, Frank Versati, and Jewish barber, Benjamin Cohen, that they agree to share the room, just so each can be in the orbit of their object of desire.
Somewhat of a contradiction in terms, more oxy than moronic, The Underpants plays like a clever Carry On – Carry On Ibsen, if you will, as the allusion to The Doll’s House is starkly obvious – with the innuendo kept from being risible by cushioning it in social and cultural observation that skirts satire while being unafraid of a slap of slapstick and a lick of the absurd.
Gabrielle Scawthorn stars as Louise, bewildered that her bloomers have got everyone’s knickers in a knot, but glad to be desired after the blatant neglect of her husband. She presents a positive glee in swapping chaste for chased. Duncan Fellows is her droll proto-Nazi husband, Theo, replete with Hitler haircut and moustache and precise in everything including anti Semeticism and his ordered control and release of his seminal fluid. His misogyny is appalling, a product of his antediluvian view of masculinity.
Beth Daly is deliciously deadpan as the “Old Maid” Gertrude, Louise’s busy body neighbour who intends to vicariously enjoy Louise’s adultery, aiding and abetting by manufacturing a pair of sexy silk panties. Hilarity reigns from Robin Goldsworthy and Ben Gerrard as Louise’s suitors, Cohen and Versati respectively, delivering deft and adroit performances in patter and physicality. And Tony Taylor makes a late but welcome and exceedingly entertaining entrance as Klinglehoff, a sexually frigid and fastidious fuddyduddy ignorant of Louise’s loose lingerie but subject to a sort of Tourette’s.
Anna Gardiner’s set and costume design is a delight, the room quirked with clocks and crucifix, the men in an array of waist-coated colour and splendour, the women in dull plainjanery. It all looks a treat under Benjamin Brockman’s imaginative lighting.
Director Anthony Gooley finds the right fret and strut in this very funny play about male fetishism and infantile fixation on the female, reining in the farce and eschewing complete caricature.
Sugary Rum Productions and Seymour Centre present
by Steve Martin | adapted from Carl Sternheim
Director Anthony Gooley
Venue: Seymour Centre | City Rd & Cleveland Street, Chippendale NSW
Dates: 31 October – 23 November 2019
Tickets: $49 – $43
Bookings: www.seymourcentre.com | 02 9351 7940