It’s been a while since the Trafalgar Studios hosted an English translation of a French comedy. The last, when the theatre was still the Whitehall, was the hugely successful, long-running Art, which concerned three friends. This time there are just two members of the friendship – actors Robert Bathurst and Nicolas Tennant play Bernard and Adrien – in Christopher Campbell’s translation of Fabrice Roger-Lacan’s Members Only, staged in the intimate Trafalgar Studio 2. Matthew Amer was at the first night…
Bright white lights illuminate the clean lines and tidy desks of Bernard and Adrien’s sublimely masculine office. The two colleagues and friends have, as you would expect, gadgets-a-go-go in their male workspace; movement sensitive lighting, trendy artistic ashtrays, a toy land-yacht. Their place of work is unmistakably the lair of the man. Which is at it should be as their story is a dissection of a male friendship.
Bernard is the married, middle-class, slightly uptight one; the down-to-earth voice of reason. Adrien, who wears jeans instead of slacks and has a looser fitting tie, is the lone-wolf, not yet ready to settle down, flitting from one relationship to another. Trouble ensues when, on the night of Bernard’s 40th birthday, Adrien cannot come to his surprise party because he has an obligatory meal at his club. If he does not attend, he will be expelled.
It is from such trifling occurrences that friendships are brought into question, and this is no different. The sensitive Bernard wants to know how important he is to Adrien, who else is in the club, why it has never been mentioned and why he has not been invited. The clash brings his insecurities to the fore as he starts to believe that the grass might be greener in the Hedgehog club.
Bathurst’s bumbling idiot of a Bernard, who loses sight of all that is good in his life, is like a spoilt child who wants to play with someone else’s toy and will sulk and cause havoc until he does. Tennant’s Adrien, the quieter, calmer and generally submissive member of the twosome, takes the parent’s role, trying to teach Bernard the error of his ways.
Of course, among the dissection of friendship, male ego and power struggles, the situations and writing throw up some truly memorable comic moments; Bernard’s mobile phone conversations with his constantly worried daughter never failed to draw a titter from the first night crowd, though the night’s biggest laugh may have been for the inspired use of a comedy prop (There’s no point explaining it, you have to see it).
In the 100 seat Trafalgar Studio 2, the proximity of the action heightens both the comedy and tragedy of the troubled friendship
Members Only runs at the Trafalgar Studio 2 until 22 April.