The Theatreguide.London Review
A Flea In Her Ear
Old Vic Theatre Winter 2010-2011
Georges Feydeau's 1907 romp is virtually the dictionary definition of French farce, and this revival is almost as good as you could possibly hope for it to be.
Let me quickly establish that any reservations I have are not based on failings but on the fact that it isn't always as fully delightful as it is at its best moments, which are good enough to make you greedy for more.
As in all French farces, a situation is set up where people who must not run into each other are almost certain to run into each other - if the reasons they mustn't meet have something to do with adultery, so much the better - and we can just sit back and watch how long doors can open and close and people can just miss each other before the inevitable.
The plot of A Flea In Her Ear defies summary. Suffice to say that a whole gang of people descend on a sleazy hotel ('Only married couples come here.' - 'But not at the same time.'), either to achieve assignations, prevent assignations or catch others in assignations, and that for reasons that made sense at the time, several of the men are using the same name.
Were that not enough, Feydeau tacks on the complications that one character has a cleft palate and can hardly be understood, one is a Spaniard with a fiery temper and impenetrable accent (not much political correctness here) and the most innocent of the men looks exactly like the hotel porter.
Well, you get the idea. There's a lot of rushing about, trying to hide, mistaking identities and, almost incidentally, trying to get a bit on the side.
Director Richard Eyre wisely takes his time setting things up in the opening scenes, aware that the confusion to come later won't be funny unless we, unlike the characters, always know what's going on.
Once things get going, the speed picks up as it should - and here is where my one reservation comes.
At many moments, and with some of the actors, things reach the near-cartoon level (exaggerated doubletakes, extreme panic, choreographed physical gags) that is farce nirvana - but not always, and a little too often you sense that a particular bit wants to be played faster or bigger than it is.
While this is very much an ensemble piece, starring honours have to go to Tom Hollander for playing the two characters who look alike, achieving some extraordinarily speedy offstage costume changes, and doing a pretty good Ronnie Corbett impersonation along the way.
Lisa Dillon is lovely as a wife upset because her husband seems to be having an affair before she's gotten around to hers, Jonathan Cake captures the cartoon physicality most consistently as her would-be lover, and Tim McMullan is droll as a butler who doesn't stand on ceremony.
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