Friday 21 December 2012

Theatre Review: Sauce for the Goose (Orange Tree)

Photo: Robert Day

If it’s Christmas at the Orange Tree, then it must be (doorless!) farce. And if it’s farce, then it must be Feydeau. Well, not necessarily, in fact, for the OT have looked beyond the repertoire of France’s principal farceur in recent years, with Hennequin and Delacour’s Once Bitten in 2010 and – best of all – the English writer John Maddison Morton’s Three Farces in 2011. But for this year Sam Walters and company have returned to Feydeau and the playwright’s 1896 play Le Dindon (The Turkey/Sauce for the Goose), which the theatre first staged in 1987. Those of us who hold none-too-fond memories of Richard Eyre’s misbegotten revival of A Flea in Her Ear a couple of years ago might flinch at the prospect of more Feydeau even now. And I can’t say that Walters’s production entirely assuaged my doubts about the validity of the playwright’s eminence. Still, though overlong, it’s a considerably more attractive proposition than was Eyre’s Flea with a few comic high spots and some finely orchestrated moments of mania.

The plot centres - no surprise here - on frustrated philanderings. Pontagnac (David Antrobus) pursues Lucienne (Beth Cordingly) who turns out to be the wife of his old friend Vatelin (Stuart Fox). Lucienne has an admirer in the reprobate Redillon, but is refusing his advances as long as her husband is faithful to her. It turns out that he hasn’t been, though, and the arrival of Vatelin’s strident German lover Heidi (Rebecca Egan) and her effusive spouse Soldignac (Jonathan Tafler) gives the plot a much-needed fillip, with all of the characters ending up at the Hotel Ultimus, where the guests include an army doctor Pinchard (Vincent Brimble) and his deaf wife (Auriol Smith). A cup of strychnine and an alarmed bed add to the larks.

The structure of Sauce for the Goose adheres to what appears to be the Feydeau formula: a laboured set-up, a manic middle, a let-down end. As in Flea, the targets often seem questionable and those with a low tolerance for funny foreigner gags and disability-mocking (a speech impediment in Flea; deafness here) would be well advised to steer clear. But although Walters’s production would benefit from tightening and tweaking – at an hour and forty five minutes, the first half is way too long, for starters – it has enjoyable moments throughout. Indeed, it’s some of the least promising elements that actually prove the funniest: I laughed the hardest at the German characters and at the Pinchards’s exploits - with Egan and Tafler, Brimble and Smith, delivering perfectly pitched performances in each case.

Indeed, most of Walters’s cast – many of them fresh from Antrobus’s production of Ibsen’s Love's Comedy - acquit themselves well, and Peter Meyer’s translation is spry line by line (a quibble on “dogging” and “hounding” is especially choice). For me, though, Feydeau’s plays lack charm and insight and are never as intricately or cleverly worked out as their reputation would suggest. Sauce for the Goose proves a pleasant enough diversion and the audience certainly seemed to be having a good time throughout, but it’s not an evening to convert the farce averse.

Booking until 2nd February. Further information at the Orange Tree website.

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