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Sauce for the Goose by Georges Feydeau Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond until 2nd February

9 January 2013

Sauce for the Goose

by Georges Feydeau

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

until 2nd February 2013

 

A fantastically frenetic Feydeau farce is on offer at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre. If you are looking for an antidote to this winter’s gloom of floods, fog, drizzle and viruses, here is a zo-zo-French romp to lift the spirits.

Being a French farce the multi-layered complexities of assignations and adulteries redouble those you would have found at Ayckbourn’s Scarborough or Rix’s Whitehall.   However, a high-energy ensemble cast gives a crackling performance that brings out every little nuance (and more) from Feydeau’s dialogue that, although being quick-fire, (being farce) is predictable.

Hence to the vexed question of doors: those doors that are the sempiternal quintessence of farce. The question certainly is vexed, as director Sam Walters uses a whole page of the programme to explain the absence of doors as a virtue rather than a necessity for farce in the round.  On one hand, I found the busy business of miming the doors highly entertaining as each actor sought more and more clever and acrobatic ways of opening or closing an imaginary door, whilst the sound operator  must be commended for accurately cueing the clicking of the latch, (a lovely vintage BBC Home Service style sound, by the way).  However, the approach of an actor to the imaginary door cannot be disguised and, apart from the slowing the otherwise pacey action, it takes away the element of surprise entry, which (being farce) should not be predictable.

The set itself is all fin-de-siècle, cleverly trucked to make for slick scene changes, and with a colourful floorcloth reminiscent of Gaugin. Costumes are superb and accurate.

Lucienne declares that the metaphorical ‘sauce for the goose’ would be served up if she should discover that her husband Vatelin were unfaithful. Good news for Pontagnac, a serial womaniser who is pursuing her and for her admirer Redillon, a bachelor, but no slouch with the girls. Enter Heidi, a formidable German lady, who was an ‘indiscretion’ of Vatelin during a long-past business trip to Berlin. And so the field is open.

Beth Cordingly brings an enchanting balance of dignity and sharpness to the part of the vengefully resolute wife Lucienne.   Vatelin, in the hands of Stuart Fox, is a likeable man, pragmatic and accepting husband, lost in events increasingly beyond his control.  In contrast the suitors are predatory.  We first see Pontagnac desperately pleading his desire for Lucienne.  David Antrobus plays him with gusto as a debonair rascal, a cad par excellence, whom nevertheless we can eventually commiserate with as he becomes the scapegoat of everybody’s peccadilloes.   Damien Matthews’ Redillion is the polished man-about-town, whose urbanity hides a jealous streak and a ruthlessness in pursuing his lusts … to the point of collapse.

The entrance of Rebecca Egan as Heidi notches up the farce even more. In a deliciously OTT performance, the fervour of this fearsomely feisty Frau explodes on the stage in a confetti of malapropisms and unintended puns, a thick accent covering remarkably accurate German.  As a foil, Jonathan Tafler’s Soldignac provides lots of oomph to his oom-pah.

Meanwhile Redillon is practicing his seduction techniques on Armandine his pretty and coquettish belle-amie, played with great charm by Sarah Winter.  Armandine in turn is practicing her own seduction techniques with Victor (James Joyce), the shy bellboy of the Hotel Ultimus, an establishment that is the sine qua non of Parisian romanticism.  Here, of course, everyone turns up, including a hapless elderly couple, a retired army surgeon, Col Pinchard, convincingly played by Vincent Brimble, and Madame Pinchard, who happens to be stone-deaf.  Auriol Smith, engaging in this role, brings out the right balance of humour and sympathy, as she bemusedly tries to make sense of all the strange goings-on.

Although not credited in the programme, Brian Miller created a clever cameo as Jerome, Redillon’s long-suffering manservant.  Even a seemingly innocent line, such as, “I’m off to get the cutlets” came loaded as a double entendre.

Feydeau’s humour, here skilfully translated by Peter Meyer, is always double-edged, and Lucienne’s reflective line, ‘Here is the man I loved’, reveals a serious message behind the play. It brings the listener up with a jolt, and as the play reaches its denouement, there is a strong sense of relief that the assignations are frustrated and all the adulteries remain fantasies.

Mark Aspen

 

 

 

 

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