Sauce for the Goose, Orange Tree Theatre | Theatre reviews, news & interviews
Sauce for the Goose, Orange Tree Theatre
This gloriously giddy revival of the classic Feydeau farce has real heart
"Doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That's farce. That's the theatre. That's life." So says one of Michael Frayn's characters in Noises Off. In Sam Walters's giddy revival of Georges Feydeau's classic farce, written almost a century earlier, the doors are imaginary (forget about the sardines.) Characters make plentiful entrances and exits, but as the Orange Tree is in the round, doors on set would present a logistical nightmare. Instead, actors mime opening and closing them, while the stage manager makes accompanying knocks and clunks. That this is so effective shows the slick nature of this stylish production.
In typical Feydeau fashion, Sauce for the Goose (Le Dindon, in the original French, meaning “turkey”) concerns infidelity and the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie. Lucienne is being pursued by Pontagnac (who is married, but is a prolific womaniser) and Redillon (who is a bachelor, but has several concurrent lovers). The beautiful, moral Lucienne is not interested in either: she intends to be loyal to her husband, Vatelin – as long as he is loyal to her.
It does not come as much of a surprise when Heidi, a melodramatic German (played with aplomb by Rebecca Egan), appears and it becomes clear they once had a fling. Despite them both being married, she wants to resume the relationship – or else she will kill herself and set her husband after Vatelin (Stuart Fox, pictured right with Jonathan Tafler's Soldignac). In a dazzlingly complicated plot, that fits together like a spinning Rubik's Cube, Lucienne and Pontagnac's wife try to expose their husbands' indiscretions. If they succeed, they will take revenge by having affairs themselves: what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Hoping that he will be Lucienne's prize, Pontagnac is keen to help with a doomed idea involving doorbells and mattresses.
Walters's two-and-a-half-hour production zips along at a merry, madcap pace, each scene flowing seamlessly into the next. Wry asides in Peter Meyer's translation clarify characters' marriages and motivations to ensure only the characters are confused in the pivotal hotel scene, in which a few more couples are thrown in for good measure.
The reason this production is so captivating is not so much the jokes as the value the director and cast place on bringing out the characters' humanity. Lucienne's plan for revenge comes across as fair and strong-minded, rather than pious and self-righteous, with Beth Cordingly (pictured left with David Antrobus) giving spirit, wit and poise to the part. Stuart Fox makes a kindly Vatelin, who is more foolish than malevolent. David Antrobus puts in a terrific performance as the suave, impish Pontagnac, flouncing around in his velvet top hat and silk waistcoat; and Damien Matthews makes a highly entertaining Redillon, who is not quite as noble as he first seems. The supporting cast is also strong, with a convincing turn from Auriol Smith as Madame Pinchard, a deaf, bemused hotel guest, caught up in the chaos.
While farce is often regarded as comedy with added slapstick, the characters in this production are rounded, and the humour varied. There are lots of comic moments involving mistaken identity, mixed-up luggage and convoluted explanations, as demanded by the genre, but there is also a generous sprinkling of wordplay and witty costume details – white nightcaps for a chorus of startled hotel guests, and an inside-out waistcoat for Pontagnac when he gets into a spot of trouble.
This warm-hearted production has an admirably realistic core: that not all marriages are perfect, but – without being too sentimental – love can prevail. A triumph.
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