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Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
Theatre review: A Flea In Her Ear 
23rd-Dec-2010 11:06 pm
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After a shaky 2010 (well, I thought it was shaky; people I know in real life thought it was shaky; the press seem to have thought it was all killer, no filler but what do they know?) The Old Vic's last show of the year is Feydeau's farce A Flea In Her Ear, in a John Mortimer translation first seen at this same theatre back when it housed the National. Tom Hollander is the star turn in the dual¹ role of respectable, impotent husband Chandebise and Poche, the drunken porter at a seedy hotel. Under the broad comedy is a very cynical view of marriage as all the couples here, from the head of an insurance company to his servants, share an outlook on fidelity: Everyone, male and female, believes they have a right if not a duty to cheat, but the idea that their spouse should also do so is abhorrent.

Like all good farces this goes at a frenetic pace but Richard Eyre's production does so from the first line, a decision I couldn't get behind for two reasons: Farce is chaos imposed on a world that pretends to order; even if we only see that order for a couple of minutes at the start before things fall apart, we still need to see it. We need to know what the setup is before it disintegrates which brings me to my second concern, of clarity: Light-speed delivery from the second the curtain goes up isn't easy to follow and Fiona Glascott in particular is incomprehensible in the opening scene. Although she gets better later she still has moments when her lines are completely garbled. The Old Vic audience tends to be generous and the laughs did come but they took a long time to start. Hollander, at least, is good in his dual roles - I strongly suspect the play was cast around him with taller actors to make his lack of height stand out even more, marking him out as the hapless figure being beset by confusion at every turn. Also as good as usual is Lisa Dillon, taking leading lady duties at this theatre for the second production in a row (and she'll be straight off to the Almeida for another lead when this ends next spring.)

The central of the three acts is by far the strongest, set in the dodgy hotel and featuring non-stop movement on a set (by Rob Howell) that's so brilliantly overblown it's a character in its own right, so after the interval the third act (with its unfunny running joke of several characters speaking the same lines in unison) doesn't quite live up to it. It's a bit of an odd one really - most of the cast are spot-on and the timing's immaculate but although I had a smile on my face throughout, I only laughed out loud about half a dozen times. The audience as a whole did, once they'd warmed up, laugh more than that but it was still a bit muted for action this frenetic. I was surprised that Hollander's excellent quick-changes, which I found one of the more memorable parts of the show, seemed to get no reaction whatsoever.

A Flea In Her Ear by Georges Feydeau in a translation by John Mortimer is booking until the 5th of March at the Old Vic.

¹I originally mis-typed that as "duel." There is a duel, actually. Well, sort of.
Comments 
28th-Dec-2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
I must admit I'm a little surprised to hear you went to see this. I wouldn't have guess it was your kind of comedy. I was in London for a Tim Minchin concert, had time for one play the night before and foolishly picked this at the TKTS booth, even though I should have known it was a farce just from the title and the poster. It's just not my cup of tea, but I went for it anyway, because I wasn't in the mood for a musical or drama, so my choices were limited and at least I knew my ticket would support the Old Vic. (Well, that's what I told myself afterwards;)
I seriously thought the show was over at intermission, clearly showing my ignorance for these types of comedies. But I figured out there was more to come, since most of the audience stayed in their seats after the lights went on, yet I left anyway. I couldn't handle more hilarity.
No laughs from me at all, but I was glad the rest of the audience seemed to have a good time. I understand you enjoyed it too, even if you didn't wet your pants, as some people in front of me appeared to do;)
28th-Dec-2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
I book everything at the Old Vic months in advance regardless of what it is, so I probably didn't even see that it was a farce when I was booking it. This isn't because of quality as such (indeed like I say, almost everything there this year has disappointed me at best) but because there's a handful of restricted view seats I like, where the view is actually barely restricted at all so you've got virtually the same view as the seat next to you, except for less than half the price. So I book early before those seats go. But I don't mind farces anyway, so long as they're done well. And this is done well, on a technical level, but apart from it being amusing at times I couldn't warm to it.
28th-Dec-2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
It's hard to judge a play if the style isn't appealing, so I personally couldn't tell if this farce was a succes. I did realize I had mostly myself to blame for not enjoying the experience.

When I first read your comment I took it as you book everything at the Old Vic, but from other posts I got the impression you're not a fan of Kevin Spacey, so I take it you are talking about the shows you do go to there?
Sadly I am not familiar enough with theatres in London to know what the good (or cheap) seats are, I usually have to take what I can get when I arrive and trust the information TKTS is giving me. I don't mind restricted view and as you said: sometimes it's not as limited as they make it out to be.

Sometimes I do book ahead and am definitely going to try to get a good seat for Richard III in the summer.
29th-Dec-2010 12:07 pm (UTC)
Oh I don't particularly mind Kevin Spacey, the last thing I saw him in at the Old Vic (Inherit the Wind) was good, but it was in 2009 so it doesn't apply to the OV having a disappointing 2010.

I'm gooing to be booking for Richard III, I'm looking forward to it (although largely because it's so long since I've seen the play - not since before I started this blog in 2006.) My main apprehension about it isn't Spacey, it's the fact that The Bridge Project hasn't really impressed me so far.
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