Classic French farce, especially the plays of Georges Feydeau, aren’t easy to translate into English. The words aren’t the problem; rendering Parisian life during the belle époque for a 21st century audience is the difficulty. Take Bang Bang, John Cleese’s version of the little-known Monsieur Chasse!.
The first act establishes the situation. Duchotel (Oliver Cotton) has told his wife Leontine (Caroline Langrishe) that he’s off on yet another hunting trip with his old friend Cassagne (Peter Bourke). When another friend, Dr Moricet (Richard Earl), throws doubt on the nature of her husband’s quarry, Leontine decides that what’s sauce for the gander is definitely sauce for her particular goose.
Act Two takes place in a most peculiar lodging house run by a déclassée countess (Sarah Crowden). Designer David Shields and director Nicky Henson effect a deservedly-applauded scene change before our eyes, as set pieces swivel and furniture is transformed to an infectious waltz (mainly by Sophie Cotton), accompanied by the violin-playing maid Babette (Jess Murphy).
The trouble is that our willing suspension of belief – that sine non quo of all theatre – keeps on being pulled up short by phrases, expletives and even the occasional gesture which destroy our illusion of a vanished past and its society. You certainly can’t blame the cast for this. The actors’ timing is exemplary throughout.
Langrishe swoops and swirls through Leontine’s emotional and moral crises with the precision of an excessively elegant battle-axe. Earl’s Moricet, a physician with seduction on his mind rather than medicine, counterpoints her precisely. Cotton’s increasingly frantic attempts to achieve his aims ar balanced by the efforts of Simon Hepworth’s police inspector to frustrate them.
Also pursuing his own agenda is Duchotel’s nephew Gontran, a born flaneur in Robert Neumark Jones’ portrayal. Bourke has a telling appearance as he arrives in the third act to keep an appointment which is definitely not one of the ones mentioned so far. It’s all fast, furious (in a nice way) and thoroughly farcical. But somehow I feel that Feydeau has been short-changed.
Four star rating.
Bang Bang continues at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 11 March with matinées on 9 and 11 March.
(reviewed at the Little Theatre, Sheringham on 7 August)
Guest director Nicky Henson has staged Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce before. It’s a play which is obviously popular wih the Little Theatre’s audiences, whether resident or holiday-makers, and this production had us all chuckling right from the start.
We are faced by Kees Van Woerkom’s ingenious set which works miracles with the theatre’s bijou stage to show three very different bedrooms simultaneously. Each is the apparently private domain of a married couple; stage right is that of Delia (Mary Lincoln) and Ernest (Paul Lavers), about to go out for their wedding anniversary dinner. Centre stage of that of bedridden Malcolm (Rik Warren) and sprightly Jan (Melissa Clements). Stage left is the chaotic first home of Kate (Loraine Metcalfe) and Nick (Mark Oosterveen).
They are holding their house-warming, preparations for which are much interrupted, as Nick is devoted to both practical jokes and attempted DIY. Among the invited guests are Trevor (Luke Francis) and his rapidly becoming estranged wife Susannah (Maeve Smyth). He’s the cosseted son of Delia and Ernest and she’s the daughter-in-law they have never really liked.
As always with Ayckbourn, there’s genuine pain amid the laughter. Smyth takes the lion’s share of this, and one wants alternatively to shake her and condole with her. Francis gives us the sort of spoiled brat tipping over into early middle-age with whom any sensible woman would decline further acquaintance, let alone marriage. Both Metcalfe and Oosterveen spin in and out of what is obviously a relationship which will mature into responsibility – though no quite yet.
Clements’ Jan is the lynchpin of the whole thing. You can see why Delia and Ernest would have preferred Jan for their son, and why she was wise to walk away from the relationship. Warren is very funny as Malcolm, as bad an invalid as any man can be (and usually is). Licoln and Lavers embody the established couple who have reached a modus vivendi largely through discounting a good two-thirds of what the other is saying at any one time.
Bedroom Farce runs at the Little Theatre, Sheringham until 18 August and is followed by Perfect Wedding (20 to 29 August) and Private Lives (between 1 and 5 September).
Tucked away on the north Norfolk coast between Wells-Next-The-Sea and Cromer (think of all those delicious crabs and lobsters for which this stretch of coast is renowned) is Sheringham. Under Debbie Thompson its Little Theatre is a thriving concern, though suffering from the usual funding crises.
The programme for this year’s summer repertory season has been announced. It was preceded between 1 and 6 June by a fund-raising production – most appropriately – of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. The 55th summer season itself opens on 21 July with Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, directed by theatre patron Desmond Barrit; the cast includes Paul Lavers. That runs until 28 July.
Between 30 July and 5 August the mood changes with that classic thriller The Late Edwina Black, a wife who seeks revenge from beyond her deathbed. Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce from 7 to 18 August is directed by another of the theatre’s patrons, Nicky Henson. The comedy Perfect Wedding by Robin Hawdon is the penultimate production between 20 and 29 August.
Another classic, Noël Coward’s Private Lives, brings the summer season at the Little Theatre to a close from 1 to 5 September. It is directed by the third of the theatre’s patrons Peter Craze.