By Georges Feydeau, translated by Peter Meyer
Directed by Sam Walters
Venue: Orange Tree Theatre
Date: Thursday 3rd January 2013
This was an entertaining start to the year’s theatre-going. I wasn’t sure how well a farce like this would work in the round, and although the constant doorway miming got a little tedious at times, it did the job reasonably well and even allowed for some extra humour, mostly between the acts. The cast did a good job, as usual, and despite the slightly excessive number of characters and the complicated plot, they told the story well and got a good deal of humour out of the play.
The set was fairly complicated as well, transforming itself twice into three different locations. For the first act, the Vatelin’s flat was decorated in gaudy colours, with a crudely painted ‘carpet’ in the middle of the floor, a fake fireplace on the left wall, the effects desk by the left entranceway, and a long pouf along the far left side with a regular pouf close by. A table with two chairs stood against the far right wall; from the veneer pattern painted on it, it was a folding table. On the right side stood a sofa, coffee table and armchair. The furniture was as crudely painted as the carpet, and the whole effect was both garish and modern, or at least modern for its time.
The second act was located in a hotel room; this was soon produced by rearranging the furniture and providing some extra dressing. The sofa, poufs and coffee table became a bed against the far right wall, the fireplace was moved round to the far left wall, the table was realigned (it did fold after all) and moved across to the left side, while a bedside table and some bedclothes completed the scene. There were also some nick-knacks and a trunk belonging to the current occupant of the room, but she soon moved out to make way for all the fun and games. Farce being what it is -there were lots of clothes and bags distributed around the room by the end of the act – it took a fair chunk of the interval to change everything round to Redillon’s flat for the final act. The furniture was much the same as for the first act, but with a different layout.
The plot revolved around Pontagnac (David Antrobus) and his obsession with chasing other men’s wives. This time he’s followed home Lucienne, who happens to be the wife of one of Pontagnac’s friends, Vatelin. When Lucienne complains to her husband that a man has been following her, Vatelin is shocked and denounces such behaviour as disgraceful; it’s a different matter when he learns that the man in question is Pontagnac, his friend, and Vatelin soon loses his outrage which doesn’t please Lucienne.
We soon discover that Lucienne has every intention of staying faithful to her husband, provided he doesn’t stray himself; if he does, she’ll be in another’s arms in a trice, and she knows just the man to help her out – Redillon. He hangs around their house all the time, desperate for an affair with Lucienne, but she holds him off resolutely. Things change when a German lady, Heidi, pays a visit to Vatelin and we find out that what happened in Germany was meant to stay in Germany, but hasn’t! Various twists and turns later, there’s quite a party going on at the hotel Ultimo, with all the characters we’ve already met plus a few new ones waltzing in and out of room 13, much to our amusement.
The final act provides Redillon with his long-wished-for opportunity to enjoy Lucienne’s delights, and there’s even another wife keen to get revenge on her unfaithful husband – Madame de Pontagnac. But sadly, a night spent with a beautiful prostitute, Armandine, has left Redillon with a temporary shortfall in the loving department. With Lucienne overhearing (by Redillon’s design) her husband’s tortured confession of his one and only lapse while away in Germany on business, the couple are reunited and, for the most part, everything ends happily.
At the time I felt the play could do with some serious pruning to give us more of the main characters and fewer distractions, but thinking about it afterwards I’m not sure what could be cut apart from Armandine. The servants had some nice little scenes, especially at the hotel, and between the acts they also opened the ‘doors’ so that the stage crew could get into the rooms and move the furniture around – a nice touch.
From the post-show we learned that the actors figure out where to move as they work on the play; apart from some set positions, such as taking tea at the table in the hotel room, they’re free to do whatever feels right. The original play had Vatelin travelling to England for business and used the Channel as the barrier between him and France. In translating the play, Peter Meyer had changed the location to Germany, using the Rhine as the water barrier, and giving Heidi some time spent in England to account for her love of tea. I forget the rest of the points, but it was one of the more interesting discussions.
© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me