A LITTLE HOTEL ON THE SIDE
by Georges Feydeau and Maurice Désvallières adapted by John Mortimer.
Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 31 August 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 August.
The difficulty of impure laughter.
If it’s to be really funny, and increasingly hilarious, farce has to be a very serious business. It is stuffed with important business gone wrong – hence the notion of history occurring first as tragedy, then as farce. Too often, it leaves me willing myself to laugh but feeling mirthless at root.
It needs characters caught by rules as unbreakable as those of everyday life, in a situation that becomes increasingly impossible as they desperately try to stay on a tightrope which avoids a plunge into being discovered. Laughter is prompted by audiences sharing the sense of looming culpability.
Too often actors seem to be throwing technique at their characters’ alarm, as if wanting things to be difficult. A good stage drunk seems to be trying to seem sober; bad ones seem trying to signal inebriation. So with farce, the sense of unselfconsciousness must cover technique.
It’s what makes Richard McCabe good casting as architect Pinglet, fed-up with his wife, trying to arrange an assignation with his neighbour Paillardin’s more attractive wife, Marcel. McCabe can always provide an emphatic manner, which serves well for Pinglet’s state of mind, irritated with his own wife and lack of success with Marcel. And Natalie Walter’s frankness that she’s spending a night in a hotel with him as a matter of principle, not desire, fits the comic scheme
The rest is effortful, if technically expert. The farce itself doesn’t help; where necessity supposedly leads to desperate inventions, the planted coincidences are apparent in Lindsay Posner’s production. It’s not so much the big one – an innocent visitor trailing four daughters, who becomes incoherent when it rains – but the minor conveniences the writers insert to clear the plot’s way.
Nor does the set help. Richard Wilson gives a strong turn as an unsmiling hotel proprietor, an unlikely provider of joy. But why is his desk situated centrally, to cause maximum impediment?
The set slightly rotates to bring particular bedrooms into prominence. But the movement undermines the needed tightness and confinement and emphasises the staginess of it all. You laugh, but it can too often be an effort.
Monsieur Pinglet: Richard McCabe.
Henri Paillardin: Robert Portal.
Marcel: Natalie Walter.
Angelique: Hannah Waddingham.
Bastien: Richard Wilson.
Mathieu: Tom Edden.
Victoire: Debbie Chazen.
Maxime: Luke Newberry.
Boulot: Danny Kirrane.
Chervet: Steven Beard.
Boucard: Michael Mears.
Ernest: David Killick.
Violette: Hannah Morrish.
Paquerette: Ellie Marchant/Lucy-Mae Beacock.
Marguerite: Amy Cray-Edgell/Kate Jevons.
Pervenchie: Lucy Stevenson/Anna Jevons.
Porters/Policemen/Hotel Guests: Sam Coulson, Peter F Gardiner, Stephen Leask.
Director: Lindsay Posner.
Physical comedy directors: John Nicholson, Alison de Burgh.
Designer: Michael Taylor.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: John Leonard.
Composer: Michael Bruce.
Associate director: Lisa Blair.