February 25th, 1961 marked a very special date in Criterion history-it was opening night of the first play to be performed by the Criterion Players, in their new theatre building in Berkeley Street South, Earlsdon.
Director of Productions Geoff Bennett wrote in the programme: 'This week sees the realisation of a five year dream; a three year possibility; a two year probability; eighteen months planning and three months hard labour: we now have a theatre of our own...Our opening play is 'An Italian Straw Hat' - a famous French farcical comedy - which should give a good send off '.
Sixty years later to the night, we are pleased to offer an online reading by members of the current Company of the very same play, in celebration of and in honour to the people involved in, that opening performance in our beloved theatre building.
'An Italian Straw Hat' is a classic 19th-century French farce by Eugène Labiche and premiered at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris in 1851. There have been many versions and translations since, and it remains one of the most frequently revived of the French farces. It is credited with influencing sketch comedians in music hall, silent films of the early 20th century and sitcoms such as Fawlty Towers.
The play has all the elements of a 'well-made farce', the story being described by adaptor Kenneth McLeish as 'a twelve-hour gallop from breakfast to bedtime' where the object of the whole exercise is the search for a fancy hat with ribbons. Fadinard is on the way to his wedding when his horse eats a straw hat hanging on a bush. The owner of the hat is a former girlfriend who insists that Fadinard buys her a new hat instantly. He sets off to find a replacement hat, followed by his fiancée and all their guests. The play develops into a delirious chase as Fadinard hunts the hat and the guests hunt Fadinard and comic misunderstandings litter every scene.
The comedy of the play is rightfully experienced through the on-stage action, actors running through multiple doors, chases, mistaken identities, drunken dances and songs. The Covid pandemic has meant that such an on-stage performance is impossible. However there is plenty of comedy in the writing and playing, and we will do our very best to capture the zany silliness of the story in our online reading.
Do come along and join us for this free-of-charge event as part of our 60th Anniversary celebrations.
Cast and Crew
FADINARD, Jon Elves
FELIX Paul Forey
VIRGINIE, Helen McGowan
VEZINET, Mike Tooley
EMILE, Ted McGowan
ANAIS, Nicole Cortese
NONANCOURT, Keith Railton
HELENE, Natalie Harratt
BOBIN, Andrew Sharpe
TARDIVEAU, Christine Ingall
DUCHESS OF CHAMPIGNY, Helen Withers
ACHILLE DE ROSALBA, Pete Gillam
BUTLER, Karl Stafford
MAID, Judy Sharpe
BEAUPERTHUIS, Alan Fenn
TROUILLEBERT, Fenella Kelly
CROSS MAN Simon Sharpe
NARRATOR, Erica Young
Director- Anne-marie Greene
Wardrobe - Pam Coleman
Sound - Dave Cornish
Props - Sally Patalong, Erica Young