The Theatreguide.London Review
Orange Tree Theatre Winter 2012-2013
If you've had your fill of holiday-themed shows but still want to laugh a whole lot, hie thee hence to Richmond for this ever-so-slightly naughty, ultimately safe, thoroughly enjoyable French farce.
Georges Feydeau, master of the form a little over a century ago, created a foolproof comic formula that he used in this play and several others – a collection of respectable middle class Parisians (that is to say, the men all have mistresses and the women would-be lovers) set off either to have amorous adventures or catch their spouses in straying.
By remarkable coincidence they all converge on the same slightly disreputable hotel – in this case, on the same room – where enough barely-missing-each-other and then not-missing-each-other goes on to make sure nobody actually gets the opportunity to sin, and everybody returns home to try to sort things out.
The details vary from play to play – in this case a wife asserts that she'll never stray unless she catches her husband straying, which leads a hopeful suitor to bring her to where he hopes she'll see just that. Two or three other couples of their acquaintance are also in attendance for generally similar purposes, along with Feydeau's special addition to the formula, some totally innocent bystanders (here an aged military man and his stone-deaf wife) just to add to the madness.
Almost by definition, the second act of any Feydeau farce ranks among the funniest half-hours in all of world theatre, with the embarrassments of the third act ranking almost as high, and you will laugh almost without stop through much of this delightful evening.
If I have any complaints to make with Sam Walters' production, they are cavils. Speed is of the essence of this sort of farce, and occasionally Walters lets things amble when they should gallop, gallop when they should approach hysteria.
And one of his proudest inventions doesn't quite work here. Farce almost requires a lot of doors for people to go in just as someone else is coming out of another, and the Orange Tree's in-the-round stage doesn't allow for doors. So some time back Walters devised the trick of having the actors mime opening and closing doors while a visible techie provides the sound effects.
I've seen it add a fun level of absurdity to past Orange Tree comedies, but this time around it just seems to slow things down.
The cast, almost all of them part of a pool of actors that almost make up an Orange Tree repertory company, are all masters of in-the-round playing and, if not all natural farceurs, are clearly having infectious fun racing about and generating laughs, with special delight generated by Rebecca Egan as a formidably amorous German and David Antrobus as a would-be lecher who just can't catch a break.
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