French farce is a wonderfully rampant affair
Here's the archetypal naughty French farce: straying husband seeking an affair with his best friend's wife, a randy maid, a harridan wife, dozens of double entendres, and a shady hotel to accommodate a big assortment of loony guests, who try to escape, usually semi-nude, through multiple exits.
Director Lindsay Posner sets Feydeau's play in period, the turn of the 19th century, and with this tireless cast it all goes like clockwork, concealing the superhuman effort that goes into the timing, the moves, and the sheer physical stamina needed to play farce and keep it fast and sparkling.
Richard McCabe is a bumbling delight as the hapless Monsieur Pinglet, who flees his horrendous wife in the hope of a little bit of fun on the side with his best friend's wife, who can't stand him. He is the fall guy, the one who undergoes humiliation at every turn, and his performance is what knits the mayhem together.
The action starts in the comfortable Pinglet drawing room complete with a view of the Eiffel Tower, and an abnormal number of doors, and the plan to slip off to the hotel is interrupted by a visit from an old friend.
Unfortunately he has a stammer when it rains– cue for wonderful suggestive misunderstandings – and he, like everyone else, ends up in the grisly and haunted Free Trade Hotel (a multi-level, revolving, many exit triumph by designer Michael Taylor) and high speed panic follows when the police raid the joint; the third act back at home sorts everything out.
All the roles, big and small, are a gift for the large cast who perfectly capture the fast frantic style of playing, and the shouty delivery of the words, and notable are Natalie Walter as the reluctant mistress, Richard Wilson as seen-it-all hotel manager, Tom Edden as the stammerer, and Hannah Waddingham as PInglet's fearsome wife, and director Posner engineers the rising hysteria to boiling point.
Directing this play must be like conducting a big orchestra, and already the production is pretty well run in: this would go down a treat in the West End. It runs in Bath until August 31.