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 were 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.
You can access the digital programme for this production here.
'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. 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 our aim was to capture the zany silliness of the story in our online reading.
This was an amateur production by arrangement with Nick Hern Books.
In line with our EDI policy, we undertake an EDI impact assessment of all our artistic programming. 'An Italian Straw Hat' by Eugene Labiche and adapted by Kenneth McLeish does not have any diversity message at its centre. Casting should be completely race/ethnicity, gender and age neutral.