The cast of Bedfull of Foreigners

Big laughs, plenty of fun

A Bedfull of Foreigners may have a few flaws – but timidity is not among them. For that, comedy-fanciers at Coast Capital Playhouse this summer must be grateful, as nothing could kill the common or garden British bedroom farce faster.

Apart from a couple of adroitly-judged performances, the latest production by Ellie King’s Royal Canadian Theatre Company band of professionals is more spirited than subtle. But that still means a full evening of fun and some big laughs for fans of the idiom, in spite of sometimes slow exposition and over-the-top playing.

At last Wednesday’s preview, a healthy-sized house was all guffaws and giggles at the mayhem spilling out from the tawdry confines of a rundown hotel on the French-German border.

In Dave Freeman’s funny, efficient script, this particular guest house includes all the requisite ingredients – goofy manager; hopeless handyman; hapless Everyman; leggy, bustier-clad sexpot; hot-under-the-collar hypocrite; and, not one, but two frustrated wives.

And that’s just in one room.

Poor Stanley, a British out-of-season holidaymaker, probably should have gone to Skegness instead – as he bemoans – rather than venture into this particular corner of the Continent.

Sam Gordon, as the none-too-bright Stanley, has mobile-faced goonery and typically British sheepishness down to an art – good news for a brand of comedy that relies on the ability to convey embarrassment and desperation. Gordon’s range of reactions when confronted by sexual temptation are particularly funny.

Walter Ekins, as Claude, has that other staple of British farce, the pompous bully, down to a T. Although Ekins’ projection is sometimes a tad low, he has a great line in seething impatience and threatening bluster – which quickly gives way to oily unctuousness whenever Claude is confronted by evidence of his own misdeeds.

Wendy Bollard delivers a seamless, hilarious performance as Helga, the former nurse who has the misfortune to be married to Claude. Bollard captures every nuance of the ridiculous in the role – from Helga’s hearty calisthenics and no-nonsense manner, to her ill-considered attempt to play the ‘tart’. Yet she also manages to make her a real, flesh-and-blood woman who can enlist audience sympathy.

Gary Peterman provides great presence and a laid-back touch as Karak, hotel caretaker of indeterminate nationality and no apparent job skills. The sly, slothful Karak – it’s clear – excels only as a bribe-extracting con-man, and Peterman mines the character for all its comedic potential.

Bret Harrison has his share of strong moments as Heinz, the hotel’s reluctant, Austrian-Swiss manager. He invests the failed medical student – whose downfall is a roving eye – with a floppy-haired, stiff-jointed awkwardness that reaches its peak in Heinz’ attempt to perform a song-and-dance number from an early German talkie.

Nicole Smashnuk, as Stanley’s neurotic wife, is effective in her quieter moments, particularly whenever Brenda is almost swayed by the clumsy passes of the randy Heinz, though her rapport with the audience is sometimes undermined by a tendency to shriek at the least provocation, rather than a more subtle depiction of Brenda’s irrationality.

Similarly, Becky Hachey’s extravagant postures as Claude’s ‘bit on the side’ approach surreal cartoonishness, when saucy is really all that’s called for. But her sledgehammer delineation of Simone does succeed in driving the plot and much of the insanity at key points in the second act.

A Bedfull of Foreigners continues until Aug. 28. For tickets, call 604-536-7535 or visit www.rctheatreco.com

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