|Photo by David Hooley|
Carl Sternheim was a German Playwright and Short Story writer. Play, DIE HOSE, was written by this German writer, in 1910, during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm was an infamously unstable (neurotic? paranoid?) leader of a world power who became what some people regarded as "Prussianized'. He became immersed in the romance of the 'look' of the military uniform which leant him to the conception and instrumentation of a highly militarised country with a civil government of rules and regulation that made way for an ultra socially conservative way-of-living for his populace. It was he who built a war machine, competing with his British cousin's, Edward VII's, navy that encouraged him to war in 1914, that became the cause, perhaps, for the continuing carnage of the mid-twentieth century that was to follow in consequence of the 1914 - 1918 catastrophe.
Sternheim's play was a cheeky satirising of the moral sensibilities of the emerging German middle class: its petty snobbery and insidious growth of anti-semitism - a sly (dangerous?) act of iconoclasm from a German citizen.
Steve Martin, the American actor, comedian, writer and musician, following his success as a screenplay author, which includes, ROXANNE (1987), L.A. Story (1991), and several plays including the hilarious PICASSO OF THE LAPIN AGILE (1993) that featured Einstein and Picasso in debate with a time-traveller blue-suede-shoed musician (Elvis, is it?), wrote in 2002 an adaptation of DIE HOSE, we know as THE UNDERPANTS.
Unlike the original cultural satire that Sternheim wrote, Mr Martin's adaptation of THE UNDERPANTS seems to be preoccupied with creating a light-weight sexual farce full of puns and double-entendre and precisely calibrated comic entrances and exits with little serious concern of comment on the social mores of his society's political developments (Context, of course, being the 2002 era). This production THE UNDERPANTS, by Anthony Gooley (I have seen other productions) seems, as well, to have taken on the new cultural development created by the #MeToo movement (context, of course, being 2008 - some 6 years after the debut of the original production of THE UNDERPANTS), and attempts to create a more nuanced dilemma for the heroine at the centre of the story, Louise Maske, played by Gabrielle Scawthorne. I don't believe that that works and believe it rather intrudes on the farcical flow of the comic concept of Mr Martin's play.
Whilst in a nearby park attending a military parade that actually features the Kaiser Wilhelm II, Louise Maske's enthusiasm for Royalty caused her underpants to fall from under her skirts to her ankles. She quickly recovers the 'pantaloons' hoping that no-one has noticed. Unfortunately, her husband,Theo Maske (Duncan Fellows), a deeply conservative public servant, has witnessed it and is aghast that it may be an impediment to his advancement in the civil service. His temper with his wife is deeply wounding in its misogynistic tenor - the accepted tenor of the times.
But to make matters worse, the Maske's have been unsuccessfully attempting to rent a spare room in their apartment, but after the recent incident in the park, they have applications from two men, a foreign, romantic poet, Frank Versati (Ben Gerrard), and a local accountant, Benjamin Cohen (Robin Goldsworthy). Later, two other men enter the scene, an elder gentleman, Klinglehoff (Tony Taylor) and, believe it or not, The Kaiser himself! (Ben Gerard). It turns out that they all have seen the underpants around Louise's ankles and have been 'moved'. Mein gott im himmel!
The success of this evening in the theatre are essentially, the performances. The actor with the most consistent and best grasp of the style is Beth Daly, playing Gertrude Deliter, a neighbour and sexual conspirator in leading the innocent but unconsummated wife, Louise, into the libidinous opportunity that these men present. Ms Daly has the vocal rhythms and physical discipline to deliver everything that is required for pulling off the difficult demands of the farceur, with faultless accuracy. Mr Gerrard as the poet, as well, creates a character of seeming insouciant care as Versati (although, his impersonation in the later cameo as the Kaiser, tempts him back to his too oft tendency to play it for 'camp'. (See my blog of AMERICAN PSYCHO). Robin Goldsworthy manages his masked Jew in a hostile world with a delicate balance that also permits the comic element of Benjamin Cohen to glow. It is a pleasure to watch Tony Taylor at work, although his role requires only a brief appearance. Duncan Fellows carrying the leading role as pompous Theo Maske lacks the consistency of form to have us fully engage with his offers.
In the central role of Louise, Ms Scawthorn, who is usually so secure with her choices in creating character, sometimes in this work appears bewildered as to how to marry the exaggerated demands of the comic lens that is farce and the nuanced naturalism, the more tempered expression required for a woman in a crisis of loyalty, guilt and need, to be revealed. The 'gear changes' to do this are apparent and seems to interrupt the advancing accumulative speed of the farce and so, prevents the climax of the comedy to be fully exploded.
The other admirable elements in this production are the work of Choreographer, Cameron Mitchell, with some interpolated features of dance wittily and confidently carried through, as well as a slow-motion fight hilariously sustained by Mr Goldsworthy and Gerrard, under the direction of Fight Co-ordinator, Scott Witt.
The design is mostly functional that appears to be under constraints of Budget by Anna Gardiner to create details of location and is brightly lit by Benjamin Brockman, with an accurate and witty selection of Sound Design by Ben Pierpoint.
The play finishes after about 90 minutes. One concludes that the parts are worth seeing but they do not up to much of a whole. Full enjoyment, then, is thwarted and one feels a little unsure of what was the point of it all. Certainly, it seems to have no satire of any of the social sensibilities of our world in 2019, as the original play aimed for under the wit of Carl Sternheim. As some one we know might say: "Sad. Sad."