Raymonde Chandebise has doubts of her husband’s fidelity, as Victor Emmanuel is suddenly unable to perform in bed (he blames a disappointing night at the theatre). Putting his devotion to the test, Raymonde sends a letter from an anonymous admirer requesting Victor Emmanuel meet for a tryst at a sleazy hotel, thereby initiating a series of humorous mishaps and high jinks in Georges Feydeau’s 1907 A Flea in Her Ear. The classic farce is relentless in its comedic endeavours, unafraid to traverse the most juvenile and absurd for a good laugh. There is little that can now be seen as refreshing in Feydeau’s play, but its complex construction of topsy-turvied identities, intentions and narratives is masterfully imagined. Andrew Upton’s new adaptation is an energetic update, although surprisingly restrained with its bawdy material. Opportunity for more biting commentary on the nature of hypocrisy in our lives is relinquished, for a work that relishes in endless frivolity and mirth, brilliantly shaped to deliver laughter in its every line.
The production (designed by Gabriela Tylseova) comes in a very particular style of presentation that feels deeply old-fashioned, but is, in the same breath, a genre of theatre that remains highly effective. Simon Phillips demonstrates his genius at directing an astonishingly specific and vigorous show, where each moment of stage time seems to be crowded with a host of precisely located nuance, along with sounds and gestures all meticulously configured to a tee. The performers are in perpetual dynamic motion, whether a twitch of the head or somersaulting across the floor. Every movement is calculated to provide punctuation to jokes that may or may not be very good on their own. The show is a furious, heady tickling of the funny bone that demands its audience respond with laughter, and we often find ourselves obliging, and dumbfounded by its power.
A very enthusiastic cast challenges us to meet their feverish folly with corresponding glee. An air of overwhelming silliness pervades the auditorium, and only the most seriously jaded could leave unscathed. Raymonde is played by Harriet Dyer, strikingly confident and natural in how she is able to turn all the ridiculous goings on to her advantage. With immaculate timing and an extraordinarily agile voice, she is a stand out in a sea of raucous talent, trouncing other players who come armed with bigger costumes and even bigger acting. Other memorable performers include Justin Smith and David Woods, both playing dual roles, chopping and changing between characters at lightning speed to show off their unfathomable theatrical athleticism and comic versatility. Smith’s campy playfulness as Carlos and August, is especially charming and a clear highlight, of a production that helps us rediscover the magic that happens when our artists are allowed to exhibit the very best of their abilities.
Sometimes, the menu may not wish to serve up anything of great originality or intellect, however, its familiar, comforting offerings can prove a delightful sanctuary, and the kind of entertaining reprieve that we all inevitably, find ourselves needing.