A yardstick of whether a comedy works is if it engages its audience and they respond. If last night’s opening of Feydeau’s French farce, A Flea in Her Ear, is anything to go by then London’s Tabard Theatre has another hit on its hands.
I’m not sure what Georges would have made of this anarchic translation of his most celebrated work but Sacha Bush has written a glorious Gallic romp that ticks all the right boxes.
There’s a lot more to farce than dropping your trousers and slamming doors (although they are, of course, a prerequisite) and this tangled tale of mistaken identity, doppelgängers, sex and innuendo takes expert direction to successfully juggle all the strands.
But Alex Sutton pulls it off, creating a melange of madcap, ludicrously absurd, comedic scenes that have you laughing from beginning to end. I loved the Oh la la! musical opening and the clever use of lighting and effects that turn this into a rip-roaring and unrestrained night of mayhem.
My only complaint, if there has to be one, is that it is over-long and could lose 30 minutes.
A Flea In Her Ear was written nearly 100 years ago but it doesn’t show its age in this sparkling, totally hilarious, new adaptation. I was initially appalled that one of the chief characters has a major speech impediment but it is in Feydeau’s play.
I’m not entirely happy with a man’s disability being used as a comic device and, in this day and age, I can see that many would find it offensive, but taking it out would wreck a lot of the physical gags.
Get over that and this is a production that starts with excess and works its way up to totally, barking mad, insanity.
Trying to explain the story is near impossible. Raymonde Chandebise suspects her husband, Victor, of having an affair so concocts a plan, with her best friend Lucienne, to lure her other half to a sleazy French hotel. But the plan misfires when Victor, thinking there has been a mistake, sends his best friend, Tournel.
If only it were that simple. But there’s Lucienne’s insanely jealous Spanish husband, Carlos, who snorts and postures like a raging bull, a randy doctor, French maids, and Victor’s nephew, Camille, who is almost unintelligible until he is fitted with a new palate.
Later the story moves to the Frisky Cat Hotel where Carlos, attempting to kill his wife, shoots at anything that moves. Victor sees Raymonde talking with Tournel and believes she is unfaithful.
The possibly cuckolded hubby is believed to be insane when Poche, an alcoholic porter and a dead ringer for Victor, is mistaken for him. Camille loses his palate, and Tournel tries very hard to seduce Raymonde.
What bounces the story off the wall is that, with a cast of just six and a character list more than double that, we see some actors quick-changing costumes and covering while others play another role. Clark James looks drippy, with an accident more Midlands than Montmartre, camp and flighty as Etienne the valet, and a growling, volcanic matador as the rampant Carlos.
Richard Watkins plays the unfortunate Camille before turning into the Parisian version of Basil Fawlty, the snarling (and sweating profusely) hotelier, who batters his porter and forces Victor into servitude.
It’s utter pandemonium. Quirky hotel guests – like Clark James’ Englishman, pop out of their hotel doors like cuckoos in a Swiss clock. Rachel Dawson as Sloany Lucienne takes a turn playing Etienne, a maid, and another bogus hotel guest who spends her time in a revolving bed.
Haley Catherine and Dominic Brewer, as Raymonde and Victor, are the comical couple at the heart of the story and they are sensational (and with superb singing voices which we don’t get to hear anywhere near enough of).
Brewer has the arduous job of playing both Victor and Poche, swapping clothes and sides of the set in an instant. At one point the characters change into each other’s costumes. Zut alors! We’re never quite sure who is whom and neither does anyone else.
Throughout the entire, crazy, ridiculous show, rides Jamie Birkett whose pencil moustache and full, expressive eyebrows act alongside her as she plays a series of outlandish, predominantly male roles. Her doctor is a prescription for laughter but she is simply hysterical changing places with James to play the Englishman.
Farce isn’t to everyone’s taste but A Flea In Her Ear can’t be beaten for sheer entertainment value.
A Flea In Her Ear runs at the Tabard Theatre, Chiswick, until April 23.
Absurd, ludicrous and gloriously madcap, Feydeau’s French farce A Flea In Her Ear has been given an anarchic translation to create an eye-wateringly funny comedy romp