REVIEWER RATING: ★★★.5
Actor, comedian and playwright Steve Martin adapted The Underpants from German playwright Carl Sternheim’s farce Die Hose (first performed in 1911). The Underpants premiered in New York in 2002 and made its Australian debut in 2003 at Belvoir’s Upstairs Theatre. It’s now back on stage for a limited season at the Seymour Centre, presented by Sugary Rum Productions (producer of the critically acclaimed Jess and Joe Forever and Anatomy of a Suicide).
It’s 1910 in Dusseldorf and married couple Theo and Louise Markes (Duncan Fellows and Gabrielle Scawthorn) are approaching their first anniversary. But Theo is convinced their lives are about to be turned upside down by a scandal – Louise has just attended the King’s parade where, in full view of onlookers, her bloomers inexplicably fell down. Theo worries that the King himself could have seen her, that he’ll be fired from his job as a government clerk and that the couple will be out on the street.
But the dreaded scandal doesn’t eventuate. Instead, two men arrive at the Markes’ home to rent their second bedroom. The first is Versati (Ben Gerrard), a dapper gent and unpublished poet. The second is Cohen (Robin Goldsworthy), a Jewish barber. What Theo doesn’t know is that each of the men witnessed the events at the King’s parade and has set their sights on seducing Louise.
Award-winning actor Anthony Gooley is the director of this 90-minute production, which is adeptly acted and offers audiences a light but an enjoyable evening of farcical comedy. It’s, by no means, razor sharp, but it entertains and it’s elevated by its ensemble members steering away from awfully overblown characterisations. That’s not to say that this production tries to hide its text’s absurdity, but rather there are efforts to make these characters slightly more human.
Anna Gardiner’s set, depicting the interior of the Markes’ home, fills the Reginald Theatre stage nicely, while costuming is era appropriate. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman keeps things simple, but there is one particular effective choice towards the end of proceedings when a surprise visitor arrives on the scene.
There’s no weak link in the cast. Fellows convinces as the uptight, misogynistic Theo, who constantly disparages his wife and doggedly fixates on their finances. Scawthorn is wonderful as the warm and appealing but subjugated Louise, who ultimately finds her own agency. As Gertrude, the lonely busybody who lives upstairs, Beth Daly is served well by her beautifully paced comedic tempo.
Gerrard’s portrayal of the florid and fulsome Italian poet Versati is on the money, while Goldsworthy is similarly successful as the complaintive hypochondriac, Cohen. Tony Taylor rounds out the cast of six as the elderly and conservative Klinglehoff. He has limited stage time but makes an impression late in the show.
Amusing and cheeky, while perhaps not the sharpest comedy you’ll see this year, Sugary Rum’s staging of The Underpants is likely to give you a good share of laugh-out-loud moments and, at the very least, an audience with a first-rate cast.
Photo credit: David Hooley
STEVE MARTIN’S THE UNDERPANTS – SEASON DETAILS
DATES: Playing now until 23 November 2019
TIMES: Tuesday – Saturday, 7.30pm; Saturday 2pm
TICKETS: Full $49; Concession $43; Under 30 $43; Cheap Tuesday $40; Groups 8+ $40
BOOKINGS: www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/the-underpants/ or 02 9351 7940