It is Christmas Eve in the tropical prison colony of Cayenne. Felix Dulay, a hopeless storekeeper and businessman, and his long suffering wife Emilie are fearfully awaiting the arrival of Felix's brother, Gaston who has financed the shop. Providence has given the Dulays three guardian angels - three convicts! In no time they have cooked Christmas lunch - and Felix's books - rescue a romance and deal with the wicked Uncle Gaston in their own special way! Such is the popularity of the piece that three film versions have been made, the latest one in Japanese!
A rather charming, if slightly overlong play for Christmas at the Criterion Theatre and the first major directing production by Nicole Firth.
The year is 1910, and the location a French penal colony in South America where three convicts are repairing the roof of the shop run, rather hopelessly, by Monsieur Felix Dulay (Pete Bagley). Despite the best efforts of his wife Emilie (Annie Gay), the books don't add up, especially with grande dames like Madame Parole, played with great gusto by Christine Ingall, sweeping in and out demanding credit.
Meanwhile pretty daughter Marie Louise (Daisy Bloor) swoons over the man of her dreams Paul (Callum Adey), who has apparently become engaged to someone else.
Then there's the men on the roof: prisoner 3011 played by Mark Wiszowaty ( still remembered for his role as Alan Turing in Breaking the Code), prisoner 6817 (Brian Emeney) and tall young prisoner 4707 (Jack Hawker).
"Don't worry," Felix assures his wife. "None of them are burglars...they're all murderers."
And indeed all is sweetness and light, until we meet the domineering Gaston, played with relish by John Fenner, who wants to see the shop's hapless books, bully his nephew and break a young girl's heart.
At Monday night's performance an obliging late butterfly added extra atmosphere by fluttering around the tropical and rather lovely set. Apparently the same insect also made its debut appearance on Saturday night.
Although what didn't happen on Saturday was the gentle collapse of Marie Louise's French bloomers. I have to hand it to Daisy Bloor....the way she casually picked them up and carried on speaking was the mark of a true professional. People in the back rows probably didn't even notice.
A darkly funny Christmas ensemble that could have done with a little editing - but showed the best side of the Criterion stage-makers and its performers.
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