by Alfred Hennequin and Alfred Delacour translated and adapted by Reggie Oliver.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 5 February 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm except 31 Dec at 7pm; no performance 3 Jan
Mat Sat 3pm & 29-31 Dec, 6, 13, 20 Jan 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 December.
Farcical fun and a chance to see French farce taking shape.
When Georges Feydeau, later master of French farce, was a small boy with only short trousers to drop, Alfred Hennequin (whose son Maurice later collaborated with the by-then full-length breeched Feydeau) was creating the model which the next generation would take to the heights of comical lunacy, dropping veneers of respectability as illicit passions had their night-time rendez-vous in suspect hotels.
Near the start of this co-authored 1875 piece, lawyers Fauvinard and Tardivaut sit in orderly ranks at desks writing simultaneous alibis for the night ahead. Can anything go wrong with their plans? Only everything.
By the time they reassemble in Fauvinard’s study next day they are considerably less orderly. The legal case they invented for their alibi turns out more real than they realised and the complications multiply, especially through that feature of farce – the wrong person turning up, or failing to go away, at the wrong time.
Sam Walters’ production might be a touch too solid and English in manner for the fleeting French style – these characters show none of the British guilt of Pinero’s magistrate Posket (in The Magistrate, from ten years later); it’s all a matter of what they can get away with, as the danger of divorce wings its way around the plot.
Walters’ innovation (several Feydeaus ago) of having sound effects – principally here, the frequent opening and shutting of doors – done live by a member of stage management visible (to most audience members) remains an inventive response to those who say theatre-in-the-round can’t manage this genre’s sudden entrances and exits, and has become a traditional part of Orange Tree farces.
In this case, demands are increased by the sounds of a pet dog, crucial to the plot and source of Reggie Oliver’s English title. It gives distinction to a piece that might not have the propulsion of the finest French farces that came later but is enjoyable enough. Especially with Richmond’s reliable performances, particularly Amy Neilson Smith’s doubling of a conventional maid in the central act with a delicious mix of eagerness and voice-draining nerves as servant in the respectable lawyer’s respectable household.
Fauvinard: David Antrobus.
Fanchette/Sophie: Amy Neilson Smith.
Tardivaut: Mark Frost.
Madame Laiguisier: Briony McRoberts.
Angele: Mia Austen.
Therese: Caitlin Shannon.
Gatinet: Richard Durden.
Madam de Bagnolles: Rebecca Egan.
Cesarine: Beth Cordingley.
De Bagnolles: Damien Matthews.
Commissioner of Police: Michael Kirk.
Director: Sam Walters.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Assistant director: Jimmy Grimes.