The Nuffield Theatre
24 - 28 January 2017

At 7:30pm.


The Reviews


24th January

It can be a dull old time after Christmas and New Year: the parties are all over and spring still seems a long way away. How better to dispel the blues than with a classic farce? As one character in this production says, ‘It’s splendid, it’s chivalrous and it’s French!’

In fact this production is quintessentially French, first performed in Paris in 1851 and later as a silent film comedy in 1928. That is quite a pedigree, both forms requiring – as is still the case today – perfect timing, slick choreography and a willing suspension of disbelief. The plot is fiendishly complicated, not to say nonsensical, and the characters all stereotypes.

But it is a good choice for the Maskers as they perform away from their home ground in Shirley and take on the much larger space of the Nuffield. Set designer John Hamon rises to the challenge of four distinct settings with elegance and simplicity, the flats remaining throughout but props changing appropriately. Sound (Jamie McCarthy) and lighting (David Cowley) give good support. Costumes by Serena Brown are outstanding, their flamboyance exactly as required for these outrageous characters.

And as might seem wise for a play involving 22 actors, there are three directors, Hazel Burrows, Paul Green and Christine Baker – truly a collaborative effort. Just as, no doubt, the directors played to their particular strengths, so has each actor by interpreting his or her part in any quirky manner they choose.

Is it forgivable, therefore, to have favourites? Bonnie Kaye as the maid, Virginia, has an irresistible giggle and innate sexiness. The same has to be said for Clara, the milliner, played by Kristina Wilde. Helen, the bride, played by Kate Grundy-Garcia, is a difficult role but Kate’s contortions trying to rid herself of the pin stuck down her bridal gown are hilarious. Marie McDade plays Annette Beaujolais, whose careless loss of her hat starts off the whole saga, and is convincing from start to finish. Jenni Watson, as La Comtesse de Champigny, also achieves credibility in a barely credible situation.

Male roles lend themselves even more to individuality in this play. John Souter’s good old boy, Vezinet, stone deaf, is inspired. Eric Petterson as the ignorant father of the bride puffs out his cheeks and hobbles around on sore feet in a way that must be of his own making. The bride’s cousin, Boby, is given a gay makeover, it seems, by Jonathan Barney-Marmont, which in terms of the script shouldn’t really work, but it certainly gets laughs. As Fadinard, the main character, Martin Humphrey has the difficult task of steering the plot through ever-increasing complications while still holding onto our interest in the eventual outcome. His own disintegration is brilliant.

This is a good choice for the Maskers, then, bringing together so many of this talented company but allowing them leeway. However, it is also an unusual choice: maybe a particular favourite of one of the directors? To put on such a classic farce somewhat out of tune with the dramatic fashion of the day is brave. It works because it is so seamlessly and professionally done – a real treat.

- Mary Ann Evans

Daily Echo

24th January

Farce is a comedy that focuses on the improbable and absurd, with physical comedy and a plot that twists and turns at every juncture. It's a "marmite" experience for many, and this audience seemed divided, but what no one could deny is how committed the cast and directors were to bringing out the requisite traits, with their faultless dialogue and characterisations. This particular production sees the central character, Fadinard (Martin Humphrey), shortly to be wed, In pursuit of a straw hat. Harried, he scampered about the stage, followed by his wife, Helen (Kate Grundy-Garcia) and the wedding party. Leading, said party, his bumpkin father-in law (Eric Petterson) and deaf-as-a-post Uncle (John Souter) provide meritorious physicality, which is delightful to watch. In his search, he is also joined by the ballad-spouting fop, Achille de Rosalba (Phillip de Grouchy), who gives a stellar performance, highlighting the satire of bourgeois values. The static set (John Hamon) pleased in its simplicity and the lighting (David Cowley) provided just the right atmosphere. Love it or hate it, the quality was all there.

- Rebecca Case

Audience Comments

"My tennis buddies and I thoroughly enjoyed tonight’s show – so lively and fun – well done to all please pass on our congrats …. My buddies will certainly be coming to more Maskers show … they were impressed by how professional it was!!"- A.S.

"I enjoyed this production so much I’m coming to see it again at the end of this week!" - A.R.

"Dave Collis, was great, such energy! And Kristina is very talented she was my stand out. would love to have seen more of her. Martin did a great job too - so many lines!!! I admire him. All the cast working so well together giving of their best they did Maskers proud. Super costumes and set. I also enjoyed the policemen, great comedic timing and lovely to see Jez in action again and John Hamon's keystone kop was very funny. Loved the use of the clever set. I was mesmerized by the chandelier. Having seen it take shape in the workshop over the weeks, it was looking forward to seeing it in place and it didn't disappoint. It looked amazing...hard not to be upstaged by it!" - S.R.

"Yes all the attention to detail was excellent, the painting of chairs, the set, the music, lighting, loved it! I would have liked to have had the lights up for scene changes, just me being nosey!" - Unknown

"Well done on ISH - some really good performances. Costumes looked spot on and loved the set." - Unknown

"Thanks for a most entertaining evening at the Nuffield Theatre, seeing ‘An Italian Straw Hat’, my party of French friends enjoyed it." - A.B.

"An interesting production of An Italian Straw Hat, a farce, well constructed, directed and performed." - J.S.

"The Hat! She's got the Hat!"

French Farce

Known traditionally as a 'French Farce', the play starts with a horse eating a straw hat belonging to a lady who finds herself in a rather compromising position. She can't return home without it or risk being rumbled, and so sparks a chain of events which will bring a smile to your face long after the curtain falls!

Join Maskers in Paris, 1900, and take a bite out of this lighthearted comedy, perfect to cheer you up during the cold winter months. Full of strong and memorable characters, the action takes place over a dizzying 12-hour period, and will have you holding onto your hats!

Director & Cast

The Directors

Hazel Burrows
To return to the Nuffield Theatre as director with a second comedy in one year has been an unplanned surprise and my great pleasure, but this French farce, is completely different from Alan Ayckbourn's Ten Times Table which I directed last! This sparkling piece is by Eugine Labiche, who wrote many of the most popular and amusing light comedies of the 19th century. Labiche’s father manufactured glucose syrup, widely used for cooking and as a drink (diluted with fruit juice or water which the characters in An Italian Straw Hat drink so enthusiastically). As the play unfolds you can see that this manic play can be likened to Fawlty Towers - I hope you enjoy it as much as we have producing it.

Christine Baker
Chris Baker is a long standing member of the company, having been involved with many productions both on and off stage. Her last appearance was as Helen Dixon in Ten Times Table. She is delighted to be part of the directing team for this production.

Paul Green
This is the fifth play Paul has directed at the Nuffield, having been acting and directing in the Southampton area for over 45 years. He has directed at the Minack Theatre (39 Steps) and most recently directed the sell-out comedy Di & Viv & Rose at the Maskers Studio Theatre. Paul hopes to bring elements of physical comedy to what promises to be a feel-good fun show!

The Cast (In order of appearance)

Virginia (Madame Beaujolais's maid) played by Bonnie Kaye
Bonnie is new to Maskers after recently rediscovering her passion for acting. She was extensively involved with the Nuffield Theatre many moons ago, performing in works such as The Great Gromboolian Plain, Skellig, and The Red Red Shoes. Bonnie studied Drama at GCSE and A-Level, and was involved in Kafka's Metamorphosis whilst at college. When Bonnie is not acting she enjoys singing, playing piano and drums, reading about 19th century history, and watching videos of cats.

Felix (Fadinard's valet) played by Paul Baker
Paul made his Maskers debut in The Three Musketeers at Mottisfont playing a variety the parts, one of whom was killed by Martin Humphrey who appears in this production as his boss Fadinard. He has been in every outdoor production for the company since his debut, with memorable roles including Weasel Norman in Wind in the Willows for which he received a Daily Echo Curtain Call award. This is his first production indoors for over a year so expects it to snow during show week.

Vezinet (Bride's uncle) played by John Souter
John is no stranger to the stage, having appeared with Maskers for more years than he can remember in shows at the Maskers Studio Theatre, in summer outdoor theatre at Mottisfont and Hamptworth, and at the Nuffield. His parts have ranged from Shakespeare to Ayckbourn both serious and comic. Last year his Nuffield appearance was as a silly deaf old woman; this year he is a silly deaf old man! He denies all claims that he is being typecast.

Fadinard (The bridegroom) played by Martin Humphrey
Martin is enjoying returning to Maskers after a break of a number of years, even if it does mean much manic rushing about on stage! Previous roles with Maskers include Sir Percy Blakeny in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Athos in The Three Musketeers, and Richard Stanley in The Man Who Came To Dinner. Martin has been involved in numerous other productions at the Chesil Theatre in Winchester.

Emile (Captain of the Suaves) played by David Jobson
David is pleased to be returning to the Nuffield after appearing last year in Ten Times Table, charging in with a great big hairy beard. This time he hopes to have a better-trimmed chin. Having played Porthos in The Three Musketeers and General McKenzie in And Then There Were None, he is not a stranger to playing the brash military character. He is also excited to be finally playing a character with a love interest.

Annette (Madame Beaujolais) played by Marie McDade
Marie has been a Masker for 5 years, and has appeared in a wide range of productions, from Shakespeare to Ayckbourn and back again. This is her second Nuffield Theatre appearance with the company, once again as a woman doomed to pursue unsuitable men - although this time with a lot more doors and lost hats!

Nonancourt (Bride's father) played by Eric Petterson
Eric Petterson started a late acting and singing career in A Christmas Charivari in 2012. He performed in the Christmas shows in 2013 and 2014 and again this year in Mistletoe Junction. His straight acting roles included the Guard in Forward to the Right and Jack in The Weir. He played Gaunt in a touring version of Richard II and enjoyed picking up young ladies in The Yalta Game.

Helene (The bride) played by Kate Grundy-Garcia
Kate has more recently played motherly roles such as Raksha in The Jungle Book and Mrs Webb in Our Town. Prior to that, she played younger, feisty roles such as Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the scary prison officer in Chair, and a tarty killer Pirate in Treasure Island. In An Italian Straw Hat, she has gone full circle and is playing an innocent young bride again. Kate lives with her husband and fellow Masker Rubén and three children Callum, Millie, and Isla.

Boby (Cousin of bride) played by Jonathan Marmont
This is Jonathan's fifth time performing for Maskers after being a member of other societies for a few years. His latest role with us was Gregor Samsa in Kafka's Metamorphosis which could not be more removed from this role! Swiftly after that it was a run at The Mayflower Theatre in An Inspector Calls. Jonathan enjoys playing characters spanning from one end of the spectrum to the other and has very much relished playing Boby.

Clara (The milliner) played by Kristina Wilde
She flirted through this year’s sell-out production of Di and Viv and Rose. She ran wild as Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Now, Kristina is delighted to play headstrong milliner Clara. After Shakespeare (Bolingbrook, Richard II), Ibsen (Masha, The Seagull) and black comedy (Paige, Dinner by Moira Buffini) with other companies, French farce is a new challenge. She thinks this’ll be a relaxing way to spend January 2017, before directing The Killing of Sister George for Maskers in May.

Tardiveau (Milliner's cashier) played by Ian Wilson
Ian has been performing and directing with Maskers for nine years. His parts have ranged from a lepidopterist, barman, strip club owner, and accountant to the King of England himself. This part is a bit less regal, but everyone needs a hat!

Comtesse de Champigny (Hostess) played by Jenni Watson
Since the age of three, Jenni has been bitten by the acting bug when she first performed in her local church nativity play! Over the years she has performed for Maskers as well as many local groups, in a variety of settings. Her favourite roles include Vladimir (Waiting for Godot), Lady Booby (Joseph Andrews), Ellie Dunn (Heartbreak House), Lady Capulet (Romeo and Juliet), Paulina (The Winter's Tale), the Red Queen (Alice), Nancy (Sitting Pretty) and Mrs Pearce (Pygmalion). Jenni is very much looking forward to playing a Comtesse!

Achille (Cousin of the Comtesse) played by Philip DeGrouchy
Philip de Grouchy has performed, on and off, with the Maskers and other local societies (some still flourishing, some long defunct) since the early seventies of the last century in a wide variety of roles, often eccentric or drunk or both. In this show, his role is definitely the former; a character which may ruin his reputation, such as it is, irreparably. But it's great fun to do.

A footman / guard played by Bruce Atkinson
Bruce has been a Masker for many years, appearing in too many shows to list. Lately he seems to have been specialising in playing butlers and was last seen in Maskers’ open-air production of Pygmalion as – the butler!

Duchesse de Chateau Gaillard played by Sue Dashper
This is Sue's second appearance at the Nuffield for Maskers; the first time she played Bridget in Sitting Pretty by Amy Rosenthal. Sue appeared as a maid in the outdoor production of Pygmalion and earlier last year she took on the role of Mrs Samsa in Kafka's Metamorphosis. This current production of An Italian Straw Hat allows her to explore her inner posh person!

Le Duc de Château Gaillard played by Alan Watson
Since joining Maskers 40 years ago, Alan’s favourite parts have been Private Mason (Journey's End), Kent (King Lear), and Lane (The Importance of Being Earnest). As you can see, Alan has a wide repertoire, but these days, only servants and toffs are considered!

Mlle. Ondine de Château Pompe played by Meri Mackney
Meri has been a Masker for many years as actor and director, most recently directing our open-air shows at Hamptworth: Pygmalion, The Jungle Book and Anne Boleyn. She is enjoying being on stage again and playing this silly cameo.

Clotilde (Maid of the Comtesse) played by Brenda Atkinson
Brenda has appeared in many previous shows, most recently as an opera-going lady in Pygmalion, and a wolf in The Jungle Book. She is enjoying running around and looking confused in this production as other characters behave bizarrely around her.

M. Beaujolais (Jealous husband of Annette) played by David Collis
David has been performing in amateur theatre since 1994 and particularly enjoys performing at the Nuffield Theatre. He was last here with Maskers playing Max in Sitting Pretty. Previous incarnations have been a diverse as Captain Zuniga (Carmen), Hysterium (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and Duke of Burgundy (King Lear).

Corporal of the Guard / Guest played by Jez Minns
Jez is coming back to the Company after a seven-year absence, during which time he has been writing poetry and painting watercolours. He's thrilled to be playing a French policeman in this show, as it gives him an excuse to grow a comedy moustache. Believe it or not, Jez has actually played Hamlet, and the most embarrassing moment of his life was when he dried during the famous "To be or not to be" speech!

Guard played by John Hamon

The Horse played by Spangles
This is Spangles first role as a publicity model. He was too shy to actually eat the hat during the shoot, despite it being specially plaited for him out of his favourite hay, but he did dig in on returning to the stables! Although he won't actually be appearing on stage, he thoroughly enjoyed his outing on a bright but frosty day on Canada Common with some of the actors from this wonderful production. "He is looking forward to his next opportunity to star", said his owner Megan Karina-Stephenson.

Creative Team

Production Manager
Christine Baker
Stage Manager
Robert Osborne
Set Designer
John Hamon
Lighting Designer
David Cowley
Lighting Operator
Tom Foyle
Sound Designer
Jamie McCathy
Sound Operator
David Cowley
Costume Design & Wardrobe
Serena Brown and Susan Wilson
Nichola and Martin Caveney
Set Construction
John Hamon, Graham Buchanan, Ken Hann, Peter Hill
Stage Crew
David Knox-Johnson, Paul Crowhurst, Nichola and Martin Caveney
Lighting Consultant
Clive Weeks

Ticket Information

Tickets £13.50 (Tues £12.00)
10% off for groups of 10 or more

Poster, Flyer & Programme

For the Maskers

Technical Manager:- Jamie McCarthy; Marketing Director:- Ruth Kibble; Marketing Team:- Sarah Russell, Angela Stansbridge, James Norton, Clive Weeks, Robert Osborne, Meri Mackney; Front of House Manager:- Chris Baker; Box Office Manager:- Chris Baker; Photography:- Clive Weeks; Bar Manager:- Meri Mackney
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Shirley's own LOCAL theatre!

Maskers Theatre Company
Off Emsworth Road
SO15 3LX

Registered Charity 900067

Established 1968

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