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A Flea in Her Ear, Old Vic Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

A Flea in Her Ear, Old Vic Theatre

A Flea in Her Ear, Old Vic Theatre

Terrific fun as Tom Hollander and co wring every laugh out of Feydeau farce

Mistaken identities: Jonathan Cake and Tom Hollander in Feydeau's farceManuel Harlan

Most critics have their own indicator of shows they have enjoyed hugely; for my part, if I fail to take anything but the most basic notes it’s because I’m so engrossed in the story or I’m laughing too much. And so it proved last night, when I found only hastily scribbled words - great this, wonderful that - in my notebook, enough to tell me that Richard Eyre's production of Georges Feydeau's 1907 farce A Flea in Her Ear is a hoot.

The play comes with a good pedigree - Feydeau is a master farceur, of course, and Eyre a director of distinction, even if farce is not his usual stomping ground. The cast is terrifically strong and the translation, by the late, lamented John Mortimer, is full of lovely little snipes at the bourgeois characters, who mostly are conniving or cheating in some way. As one character says early on, “There’s no liar like a man.... unless it’s a woman.”

We are in Paris in 1900, in the apartment of Victor Emmanuel and Raymonde Chandebise (Tom Hollander and Lisa Dillon, recently seen in Design For Living at the same theatre), which is run by the sneering butler Etienne (Tim McMullan). Raymonde suspects Victor Emmanuel of having an affair because he has lately, and suddenly, had trouble in the boudoir. There’s a perfectly reasonable - and very funny - explanation for this, but it’s the first of many comic misunderstandings of the evening and Raymonde enlists the help of her old convent-school friend Lucienne (Fiona Glascott), who is having some marital problems of her own with her virile but insanely jealous Spanish husband Carlos (John Marquez).

While Raymonde wants more action in the marital bed, Lucienne would like an occasional rest in hers and they contrive a plot to test Victor Emmanuel’s fidelity; it involves Lucienne writing an anonymous love letter to him and inviting him to an assignation at the gloriously named Hotel Coq d’Or, the favoured establishment for matters of the, er, heart, for half of Paris, including Victor Emmanuel's randy physician Dr Finache (Oliver Cotton), his nephew Camille (Freddie Fox) and his business associate and renowned ladies’ man Romain Tourel (Jonathan Cake).

When we arrive at the hotel (another sumptuous set by Rob Howell), we find a second collection of comic exaggerations, and as all the characters converge there what follows is a succession of split-second entrances and exits through multiple doors, lightning costume changes, assorted couplings and myriad misunderstandings. Added to this hilarious mayhem is a case of mistaken identity as the hotel’s drunken hall porter Poche is a dead ringer for Victor Emmanuel; his boss Augustin (Lloyd Hutchinson), once Poche's regimental sergeant major in the army, keeps him in line by whacking him across the backside at every opportunity.

It all (well, mostly all) gets sorted in the end, as the married couples realise they love each and have been fools to doubt their other half's fidelity. The ensemble cast, who know when to underplay a line or give it some welly, are uniformly terrific; Dillon and Glascott give their conspiring women just the right balance of coquettishness and knowingness, Cake’s lothario is delightfully unself-knowing and the ever wonderful McMullan makes his upstart servant a deserved cuckold, while Marquez plays the macho Latin husband for every laugh Feydeau and Mortimer wrote, and many more. But special mention to Hollander for pulling off his increasingly demented Victor Emmanuel, being kicked around the stage for no fathomable reason, and his simple, masochistic drunk Poche, delighting in every kick up the arse but unable to understand why nobody will believe he’s the hall porter.

Eyre’s direction is assured and, save for a slight lapse in pace in the longish second act, this is terrific entertainment.

What follows is a succession of split-second entrances and exits through multiple doors, lightning costume changes and assorted couplings

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Comments

Are you mad? Am I mad? It was dreadful!Beyond dreadful!

Peggy - I fear it was may be you that is in fact 'mad' as you phrase it. I saw the play last night and am still sniggering to myself remembering certain scenes. I loved it and along with the audience - laughed out loud throughout! fantastic casting, writing and direction - all with exception comic timing.

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