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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.


Ooh La La - Keep An Eye On Amlie
BBC and YouTube  February 2022

A charming and amusing little bauble of a play, this 1973 television adaptation of a classic Feydeau farce is funny, features some stylish performances (including one that might surprise you) and doesn't outstay its welcome.

Adaptors Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin cut a full-length play down to one hour, but since mounting hysteria is essential to a face, condensation and speed can only make it even more enjoyable.

Man-about-town Marcel needs to marry to get an inheritance, so he enlists his friend's mistress Amlie to pose as his fiance. This satisfies the comic-Dutch godfather who controls the money, but upsets both the friend and Marcel's own mistress while just confusing Amlie's father.

But then the Dutchman insists on witnessing the actual wedding, the friend plots revenge, and an amorous Russian prince woos the not-totally-unwilling Amlie with rich gifts.

So what we have here is actually closer to the English model of farce than the French, as a simple lie leads to complication piled on complication.

In the central role of Marcel, Patrick Cargill plays a man who begins with a simple plan and then goes through surprise, consternation and panic as things spin beyond his control.

A master of underplaying in the Noel Coward mode, Cargill gets more comedy out of a raised eyebrow, a moment of speechless shock or a wry aside to the camera than others might from pratfalls and extreme double-takes.

And the real delight among the performances is (not-yet-Dame) Judi Dench's as Amlie. In her late thirties at the time, Dench fully captures the essentially innocent sexiness of a 20-something good time girl for whom all of life, including any troublesome questions of morality or propriety, is just an enjoyable game.

When a plot turn has Amlie literally hiding under a bed as Marcel tries to resist his amorous mistress above her, Dench pops her head out from time to time with the mild annoyance one might feel toward noisy neighbours.

And, elsewhere, when the officious but jewellery-offering Russian keeps interrupting things, Dench doesn't hide Amlie's acquisitive side while still keeping her lovable.

A supporting cast of solid character actors, notably Bill Fraser as the father and Thorley Walters as the Russian, contribute to keeping this fragile soap bubble of a play afloat, making for a thoroughly enjoyable hour.

Gerald Berkowitz



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Review of Keep An Eye On Amelie - 2022