Tuesday, 13 December 2016

A Flea in Her Ear, Sydney Theatre Company

Georges Feydeau is one of farce's true masters. He practically invented the split-second timing, multiple-door-slamming farce, with his plots sprawling as large casts of bourgeois frenchpeople get caught up in increasingly ridiculous complications.

There appear to be four main reasons why he's not more widely seen these days. First, his scripts demand a large cast, all outfitted in gorgeous turn-of-the-century french costumes. Second, you need two very solid sets to survive actors running at full pelt around them (as Feydeau usually writes three act plays, with acts one and three in a bourgeois household and the middle act set elsewhere, frequently a hotel of ill repute). Third, they really do demand split second timing to work. Fourth, they are full of racial stereotypes, gags about people with physical impairments, and are generally pretty damn merciless to everyone.

STC trims slightly on the budget by having 6 of its cast of 9 perform in double (or in one case, triple) roles. One piece of doubling is written into the play, as the genteel Chandebise turns out to be the exact double of the grotty hotel porter Poche, but the other five aren't . This additional level of complication shouldn't really work, yet due to the sterling efforts of the cast (and to what I can only imagine is a equally hectic set of dressers) it does, frequently virtuosically. David Woods completely captures both the smooth Chandebise and the slumped Poche; Justin Smith scene-steals wildly as the demented spaniard Carlos Homenides de Histangua, and is snootily imperious as the hotel manager August. Leon Ford is persnicketty as the butler Etienne and bewhilderldy blase as the manageress Olympe. Harriet Dyer is snootily blase as Mme Chandebise, right up until the point where she's hectically demented, and Helen Christiansen is a wonderfully stylish partner in crime. Harry Greenwood is adorably befuddled as the tongue-tied Camille.

Simon Phillips directs a sharp, tight production that gets every laugh it's going for. Gabriela Tylesova's costume and set design are marvelous Belle Epoque creations, keeping the setting stylish even as the behaviour falls apart.

Andrew Upton's translation is not perfect - there is a tendency to drop anachronisms in to no appreciable effect - but it's serviceable for what's going on. IN short this is a fun end of year frolic that serves as good solid entertainment for two and a half hours.

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