Reginald Theatre, November 2


Sixteen years after The Underpants of Steve Martin dropped at Belvoir St (soon after premiering in New York), it seems a curious play to revive. It’s a free adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s rather racy – for 1910 – farce, Die Hose, and you can almost see Martin’s rubbery face and hear his wisecracking voice in all the male roles. Fans of his clownish comedy will be laughing, while those who find his humour predictable or unsubtle might sit somewhat po-faced.

Ben Gerrard and Gabrielle Scawthorn. Photos: David Hooley.

The sweet-tempered Louise’s knickers inexplicably fall to the ground while she’s watching a royal procession with her stuffy husband, Theo. She salvages the situation with panache, but not before mortifying Theo and igniting the lust of two onlookers, Versati and Cohen, who promptly seek the room for rent at Louise and Theo’s.

If the script is amusing rather than hilarious, it’s a foundation which a production can clothe in further comic layers – something director Anthony Gooley (for Sugar Rum Productions), his actors and designer Anna Gardiner have done with variable success. Beth Daly lifts the text with a sharp, fizzing portrayal of Gertrude, Louise’s busybody upstairs neighbour, who hears all that transpires beneath her floorboards, and urges the under-loved Louise to accommodate Versati’s advances, so she might bathe in the vicarious pleasure of their affair. Versati, a proudly unpublished poet, is played with oily charm by Ben Gerrard (who earlier this year was an unforgettable Patrick Bateman in American Psycho). The super-slow-motion fight he has with his rival, Cohen, entertainingly played by Robin Goldsworthy, is a highlight.

Gabrielle Scawthorn and Beth Daly. Photos: David Hooley.

More uneven are the two leads, Gabrielle Scawthorn as Louise and Duncan Fellows as Theo. Louise wants a lighter vivacity than Scawthorn brings, and Theo a more bumptious stuffiness. Yet Scawthorn’s physical comedy can still hit the bullseye, and there are flashes when Fellows sneaks the merest trace of likability into Theo’s domineering, chauvinist priggishness, aided by Tony Taylor’s Klinglehoff, who is so pompous and prim as to cast Theo in a dimly favourable light.

Peopled with cartoon characters, Martin’s piece requires a tricky balance between being played broadly and being played straight enough so the laughs to take care of themselves. A few more giggles might bubble up if everyone in Gooley’s production hit the tonal sweet-spot, but it would not convert a curiosity into exceptional comedy.

Until November 23.