THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
by Georges Feydeau translated by Kenneth McLeish.
Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 19 December 2015.
Mon-Thu 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min Two intervals.
TICKETS 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 December.
Feydeau fun concludes autumn Ustinov farce season.
Thanks partly to the power of alliteration, French farce is fundamentally thought-of in terms of Georges Feydeau, who brought the form to its Belle Époque height.
The elegance of his language, the complex tightness of plots encompassing sexual rapacity and lives on the verge of skidding out of control, formed an artistic expression of their author. With his permanently-booked table at Parisian night-time hotspot Maxim’s, Feydeau was an inveterate gambler who died in syphilitic madness.
A kind of madness runs through his sexually conniving protagonists, certainly in this early, little-known piece, Monsieur Chasse, from 1892. So little-known is it that, apparently, the late Kenneth McLeish’s translation remains an unpublished typescript still needing final copy-editing.
McLeish’s title catches Feydeau’s ‘McGuffin’ (something that starts the plot rolling), Duchotel’s claim to be off fishing whenever he indulges in extra-matrimonial affairs.
Further future Feydeau features include the innocent wife whose sexual adventuring is unleashed when she learns about her husband’s activities, and the contriving of several liaisons in the same place on the same night, topped off by the intrusion of the long arm of the law.
He was to bring more credibility and individuality – and, often enough, cruelty – to such situations in later plays. Meanwhile, Laurence Boswell’s production, on Polly Sullivan’s ingenious adaptable set, has hardworking performances from good actors, with a fine central trio in Joe Alessi and Frances McNamee’s bourgeois couple and Richard Clothier as the smooth family friend with designs on being more than friendly with one of them.
If Feydeau later made clearer plot points and more telling use of such things as the compromising letter which reaches the wrong person’s pocket (intriguingly, a device used two years later by that hater of Victorian theatre, George Bernard Shaw, in Arms and the Man), the need to assist things might be what keeps this production from the steadily-built hilarity of its Ustinov predecessor this autumn, Eugène Labiche’s Monsieur Popular.
But it’s consistently amusing, while the comparison between the earlier playwright’s mature work from 1863 and this early work from a later generation gives a valuable insight into the genre’s progress.
Duchotel: Joe Alessi.
Léontine: Frances McNamee.
Doctor Moricet: Richard Clothier.
Gontran: Oscar Batterham.
Cassagne/Policeman: Stephen Ventura.
Madame Latour: Victoria Wicks.
Babat/Policeman: Eliza Collings.
Inspector Bridols: Toby Longworth.
Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer: Polly Sullivan.
Lighting: Ben Ormerod.
Sound/Composer: Isobel Waller-Bridge.
Movement: Anna Morrissey.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Rosa Crompton.