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The Theatreguide.London Review

Once Bitten
Orange Tree Theatre   Winter 2010-2011

Isn't it always like that? You wait forever for a good French bedroom farce and then two come along at the same time.

Joining the Old Vic's Feydeau this winter is the Orange Tree's rediscovery of two of Feydeau's contemporaries, Alfred Hennequin and Alfred Delacour, whose 1875 farce, here skilfully adapted by Reggie Oliver, is equally frantic, equally absurd, equally funny and perhaps even better staged and performed.

Like all farces of the genre its plot defies summary but is built on a bunch of people who must never meet being put in a situation in which meeting seems inevitable, and if there's some adultery or attempted adultery in the mix, so much the better.

So, after the situation is set up, the central act of Once Bitten has four men, two mistresses, two wives, one mother-in-law, one vindictive servant, one mad policeman and one vicious dog all racing in and out of doors or hiding under furniture to avoid each other.

And in one of director Sam Walters' strokes of pure genius, there are no actual doors, but rather a sound effects engineer who provides the noises precisely on cue as the cast mime opening and closing where the doors would be.

It's touches like that that make this evening a total delight even above and beyond the comedy of the script. It goes without saying that director Walters is a master of theatre-in-the-round, and in the rare moment that you're not laughing at the play, you can pause to appreciate how smoothly he choreographs the frantic action and effortlessly he seems to move the actors about so that sightlines are never blocked.

As the poor shnook at the centre of the action - one of the husbands, with one of the mistresses, one of the wives and all of the mother-in-law David Antrobus is a study in mounting panic as we watch him fall haplessly into and then struggle mightily to pull himself out of the hole of seemingly inevitable exposure.

Briony McRoberts is great fun as the mother-in-law from hell, Richard Durden is droll as a man prone to falling asleep whenever he sits down, and a special round of applause is earned by the SFX maestro Sophie Acreman.

Once again the 20 minute train ride from Waterloo to Richmond proves more than worth it as this delightful little theatre delivers up a holiday gem.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Once Bitten - Orange Tree  Theatre 2010


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