Ingmar and Hetty are the first fop and fopette we meet in the smash hit musical Seven Fops For Seven Fopettes. Ingmar is standing on a hayrick, whistling, and Hetty enters stage left, carrying a lamb. In most productions the lamb is a mere bundle of cotton wool. There is nothing remotely foppish about either of them. Indeed, they might be mistaken for yokels.
Then Ingmar sings the smash hit number “On Luneberg Heath Did I Lay Down My Submachine Gun”, and Hetty replies with “Gut That Herring!”. By now the audience is utterly confused. Fops, yokels, militia men, fisherfolk? What is going on here?
The action now turns to the barn, from within which comes a cacophony of different noises, including clanking, siphoning, ragtime piano, hooters, the cries of triumphant pole-vaulters, oompah oompah music, and the like. Ingmar and Hetty enter the barn to investigate, and when they emerge, they have become foppish, indubitably so. Hetty sings “I Am A Fopette On Crutches After That Accident In The Barn”. They then become engaged and a Lutheran pastor beckons them from the wings.
The second fop and fopette to be introduced are Gladiolus and Gladiola. They are already wholly foppish as they descend from a balcony on strings. Yes, they are puppets! The orchestra strikes up a puppetty kind of tune, sprightly yet with mordant passages. Gladiolus torments a heron – also a puppet – in a languid manner. Gladiola rescues the heron from his clutches, and with a startling bit of stage trickery it is transformed into a real heron. The fop and the fopette profess their undying love for each other, and a Lutheran pastor beckons them from the wings.
Five other fop and fopette couples appear in turn during the next forty minutes. There are moments of melodrama and terror, bits of slapstick, a Dadaist interlude, and many smash hit songs before the curtain falls.
Act Two begins with the Lutheran pastor centre stage, alone at a lectern. He recites lengthy passages from Pontoppidan’s Explanations, while behind him mute blind love monkeys cavort in cardboard trees. The second half of Act Two is the audience participation section, always an unnerving experience. Usually, the rifles are loaded with blanks, and the piano wire is actually made from thin strands of easily breakable dough.
Act Three, with its famous airship sequence, has always proved a huge challenge to directors. While the orchestra plays Metamorphosen by Strauss, in the happy up-tempo version by Julius Uptempo, the audience has to be convinced that six fops and six fopettes parachute from the airship with seconds to spare before it explodes and is engulfed in flames. Ingmar and Hetty remain on board, and are assumed to have perished until the exciting finale.
Act Four has never been performed in public, for reasons given variously as stupidity and fire regulations.
In the exciting finale, the seven fops and fopettes are married in a ceremony performed by the Lutheran pastor. Ingmar and Hetty explain their escape from the burning airship in mime. Wilted flowers are tossed on to the stage by a stooge in the audience, and there is a rousing chorus of the smash hit “Thin Strands Of Easily Breakable Dough”.
Critics were unanimous in their praise of the musical from the outset. In Unanimous Praise Of Musicals magazine, Volume XVII, No. 7, July 1953, Bengt Bunglawala wrote:
I have often dreamed of seeing a musical featuring fops and fopettes and puppets and a Lutheran pastor and a mysterious barn and a heron and melodrama, terror, slapstick and a Dadaist interlude and audience participation and an exploding airship and mute blind love monkeys, all accompanied by smash hit songs and a happy up-tempo version of something by Strauss. In fact, it has been my recurring dream, from which I have awoken, biting my pillow in a frenzy, five or six nights a week since I was so high. Now it has become a reality, and it does not disappoint. My only cavil is that there was no place for either Jack Hulbert or Cicely Courtneidge in this production.
In Effusive Reviews Of Musicals magazine, the critic Tord Grip (no relation to the football coach) was effusive:
Boy oh boy! What a musical! My critical review of it is particularly effusive regarding the audience participation segment, when I contrived to substitute blanks for live ammunition and shot my great rival Bengt Bunglawala in the kneecaps. That will teach him to question my critical acumen!
A film adaptation of Seven Fops For Seven Fopettes, featuring Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, is still in the throes of production, several decades after shooting began. No release date has yet been announced.
Tinie Tempah’s cover version of the smash hit from Act Three, “A Fopette Dons Her Parachute”, features on his next album, which may mercifully never be released due to a sudden and unexpected upsurge of good taste in the record-buying public.
Alain de Botton’s squib How I Based My Entire Life On What I Learned From “Seven Fops For Seven Fopettes” is available from all good airports.