Gigi the stage play is based on the 1944 novella by Colette , adapted by Anita Loos. The plot follows a young Parisian girl being groomed for a career as a courtesan, and her relationship with the wealthy ,cultured , Gaston who falls in love with ,and marries, her. Made famous by the film musical adaptation by Lerner and Loewe which launched the career of Audrey Hepburn, the story is slight ,but offers considerable potential for directorial interpretation, and Sutton Arts always enjoy a challenge offering innovative and ambitious productions.
One of the first dilemmas is whether to ask the cast to assume French accents. Doing so can lend authenticity ,but can also risk comic association with “Allo Allo”. Director Ian Appleby opted to “go French”, and it worked, with the cast commendably sticking to the task throughout. The play itself is divided into three scenes for each of the two acts, which unfold in two apartments, the sets for which were elegant and pleasing.
The script is unusual in that the lead parts of Gigi, and her suitor Gaston, are relatively straight roles whilst the supporting cast have far greater scope for fun with exaggerated characterisation. Sarah Farmer is a reliable anchor as Gigi, pouting and flouncing, girlish and innocent, Mark Nattrass’s Gaston oozes carefree insouciance before falling for the young girl’s charms. Susan Lynch’s statuesque beauty makes her a convincing French grandmother,Mme Alvarez, swathed in black lace, wise, and always with a twinkle in her eye, in a performance which I liked very much. The ability of the cast to breathe life into their characters is vital in a plot in which very little physically happens, Elena Serafinas as Andree ( borrowing some zany moves from Phyllis Diller), and Valerie Tomlinson as Alicia, have great fun hamming up their parts. Robert Alexander is a suitably unctuous Butler.
The production peaks in Act Two ,Scene One, in which Bhupinder Dhamu steals the show with a wonderful comic cameo as Sidonie the maid , playing to the crowd, taking her time, lifting the spirits of cast and audience alike. Beautifully costumed, the predominantly female cast delight in swishing and swirling in their period dresses, apart from Gigi who has to make do with a smock!
The play entertains as a comedy of manners as Gigi explores, and frets about, her impending womanhood, but the ending of the play is somewhat perfunctory when Gaston and Gigi finally unite, and the first act lacked pace and interest.
Gigi runs from Thursday 29th to Saturday 7th, for tickets: http://www.suttonartstheatre.co.uk