Pros: Versatile performances, good use of setting.
Cons: Pace is uneven, second half ran over time significantly.
Can a farce truly be too fast? This was the imposed dilemma when watching Sacha Bush’s latest adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s demi-monde on acid, A Flea in her Ear, at the Tabard. Already infamous for its frenetic pace and hedonistic stereotypes, Bush pushes the boundaries further with this tale of identities mistaken and liaisons devised. What results is a descent into almost rudimentary chaos as the plot ploughs through at breakneck speed with a heightened sense of indelicacy. However, there are certainly moments of glorious fun to be had along the way.
The basic plot – if you can keep up – is based in turn of the 20th century Paris. Madame Raymonde Chandebise, convinced of her husband’s infidelity, persuades friend Lucienne to set him a honey-trap in the form of a love letter from a secret admirer, doused in Crimson Flow parfum. They arrange the rendezvous in the Frisky Puss Hotel (cue 70s porn music here) but husband Victor is adamant the letter was meant for his colleague Tournel, who happens to be in love with Raymonde, so sends him in his place. Meanwhile Victor’s nephew Camille is suffering from a terrible speech impediment and is having an affair with the cook, the wife of Victor’s valet. In between all of this is Dr Finache with a cure for Camille’s lack of consonants, and jealous Spanish husband of Lucienne, Carlos, hell-bent on revenge after reading the letter and believing his wife to be having an affair with Victor. And that’s just the first half! The second half takes place in the notorious hotel itself, where further characters are introduced and there is much slamming of doors, screams and slaps across the face.
The set was utilized with authentic creative consideration despite the small space, notably a rotating vertical bed and open-sided hotel bedroom doorways to represent inside and out. A couple of minor constructive defects (a rogue wall panel, a drawer handle) were met with almost as many laughs as the set-ups themselves. Thematically I felt Flea was attempting to juggle too many ideas and at times they did not mesh well together. The opening of the second half in the hotel, with leopard print wall, graffiti and neon lipstick, jarred with the Edwardian setting of the previous. In a similar vein, the send-up of the French in the first few scenes seemed to dissipate entirely and concentrate on the British and Spanish, so every country could have its turn at being gently mocked.
There were elements to be taken most positively, commendable versatile performances from Jamie Birkett, as Dr Finache, whose use of a moustache on a stick is incomparable, and Clark James as Carlos, cavorting around the stage with marvelous energy. The gender balance was also a significant bonus, with all six actors seamlessly moving between male and female roles, with the exception of the valet Etienne, which I personally felt was played vastly different depending on who was playing him.
Overall A Flea In Her Ear is a pleasurable farce, and the audience were laughing heartily, but on closer inspection there needs to be a tightening of the pace, left to its own devices it was verging on confusing its audience and running over time.
Author: Georges Feydeau (new translation by Sacha Bush)
Director/Choreographer: Alex Sutton
Box Office: 0208 995 6035
Booking Link: https://live.advancedticketing.co.uk/k
Booking Until: 23/04/2016