Francis Veber’s comedy ‘Le Diner de Cons’ opened in Paris in 1993 and went on to enjoy phenomenal success with over 900 performances. When it was released as a movie in 1998 it was a hit at the French box office, with only the blockbuster movie ‘Titanic’ selling more cinema tickets. Ronald Harwood has adapted Veber’s comedy for an English speaking audience. It originally opened at The Gate Theatre in Dublin last year and is now making its West End Premiere.
Each Tuesday a group of conceited Parisian businessmen gather for a dinner party in which they invite the biggest fool that they know. They then entertain themselves at the ‘fools’ expense by belittling their unfortunate victim. Publisher Pierre Brochant is a connoisseur of the cruel pageant and is eager to display his latest find - an obtuse tax collector who is an obsessive matchstick model maker - Francois Pignon.
On the evening of the dinner Brochant has injured his back and is advised by his doctor to stay at home and rest. When the good-natured, but bungling Pignon arrives at Brochant’s apartment an evening of havoc ensues, in which it is Brochant, not Pignon, who is revealed to be the actual fool.
Ardal O’Hanlon, the comic actor better known for his role as Dougal in the TV comedy Father Ted, makes his West End debut as Francois Pugnon and proves to be the play’s singular highlight. Wearing a suit that is one size too small and clutching at a brief case that contains pictures of his precious matchstick modals, he looks the perfect image of a prize nerd. His earnest attempts at medical aid, marital advice and deception etc., end in disaster for his host Brochant, and he offers condolences with innocent bemusement at each inevitably mishap. He adds to this an air of vulnerability that enables you to feel genuine affection for his character, whilst his incompetence always ensures you never forget why you would not want to invite this idiot to dinner.
Nigel Havers plays Pierre Brochant with too much sweetness and innocence, and his characterisation lacks cruelty and invectiveness! Like Brochant’s wife one is supposed to be appalled with the whole idea of the dinner for fools, and find Brochant’s pleasure in the event distinctly distasteful. However, Haver’s Brochant is too charming to be dislikeable and you do not know whether to sympathise or delight at his misfortune.
Geoffrey Hutchings is terrific as Lucien Cheval, the shrewd tax inspector. His eager eyes twinkle with mischievous delight as he detects signs of hidden wealth in Brochant’s apartment.
Robin Lefevre has produced a warm amusing comedy, but in forgetting to ensue that the audience dislikes Brochant he has removed the wicked delight we are meant to enjoy as we watch the tables turn on this dinner for fools!
Next review by Tom Keatinge
“See U Next Tuesday” at the Albery Theatre is Ronald Harwood’s adaptation of the French comedy “Le Diner De Cons” by Francis Veber, set over the course of one evening in the Parisian apartment of Pierre and Christine Brochant. Pierre Brochant (Nigel Havers) and his clique of friends have a perverse hobby, which entails inviting a different hopeless idiot to dine with them every Tuesday evening. This particular Tuesday, the idiot in question is Francois Pignon (Ardal O’Hanlon), chosen for being not only a tax inspector, but also a builder of models of great engineering structures, like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tour, out of matchsticks. Brochant, a publisher, has attracted him to the dinner on the false pretence of wishing to discuss possibly producing a book about his models. As arranged, Pignon comes to the Brochant apartment, only to find that the dinner is being cancelled due to Pierre’s bad back, and Christine Brochant (Carol Royle) has decided to leave her husband. And so the chaos unfolds, combining mistaken identities, a highly strung mistress, a distrusting fraud investigator, and the magnificent idiocy of Pignon.
“See U Next Tuesday” is a terrific romp, containing amusing plots within plots, a sharp script, and some great acting. Havers plays his usual part of smooth charmer with aplomb, and seems to enjoy developing the character as his finely balanced life begins to unravel, although for me he is just too nice to genuinely despise even though he inflicts weekly misery on his dinner guests. O’Hanlon is outstanding as the idiot tax inspector, for whom the whole evening has been arranged, but who ultimately is the one who provides answers to Brochant’s problems, turning the tables on him to prove that it is he, Brochant, who is the idiot afterall. Strong supporting performances are also supplied by Patrick Ryecraft as Just Leblanc, and Lucien Cheval the forensic fraud investigator. The strength of the ensemble is, sadly, let down by Patsy Kensit, the supposed over wrought, nymphomaniac lover of Pierre Brochant. Her acting is desperately wooden, lacking any sense of those around (fortunately she is rarely on stage).
“See U Next Tuesday” is a great play in the tradition of middle-class British farce, and whilst it could hardly be called adventurous or cutting edge theatre, it is wonderfully entertaining and a thoroughly good night out.
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Weak-minded farce." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Enjoyable theatre production ." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "A play of intermittent rather than continuous hilarity." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Modestly amusing."