THE name of the French fin de siecle comic dramatist Georges Feydeau is synonymous with bedroom farce – but, in the age of #MeToo and the constrictions of cancel culture, is there still a place for his fizzy confections of mistaken identities and thwarted illicit pleasures?
That may be the inevitable response to a Feydeau farce in 2022, but, on the other hand, isn’t there something really rather wonderful about a play which sends up mothers-in-law, pompous husbands with flirty mistresses and “faithful” wives with their own dalliances, and sexual frustration bursting out of every overtightened set of stays or stuffed shirt?
This is not to say that translator-director John Crabtree’s new version of Feydeau’s 1888 farce Tailleur des Dames is exactly refreshing – it’s a period piece, sexist, dated and beyond improbable! But it’s worth remembering, as Crabtree says in his director’s note, the great John Gielgud’s comment that “Feydeau works best when he’s played by solid middle-aged actors who are almost past the time for sexual frolics.”
What you do need for Feydeau is bucketfuls of bubbly energy – speed is of the essence in farce, and Feydeau absolutely demands it, or the utter nonsense of his stories may overtake your suspension of disbelief.
The plot is far too complicated to describe. Suffice to say that the curtain rises on a scene rich with marital disharmony and the imminent arrival of the wife’s formidable mother (Jo Simpson). Central characters, recently married Dr Hector Moulineaux (Alan Morris) and his young wife Yvonne (Isabella Franco) are estranged, sleeping in separate bedrooms. Hector has been out all night. It’s up to his quick-witted valet (the always suave and elegant Patrick Knox) to attempt to save the situation.
But the arrival in short order of a bumbling friend, Bassinet (Andrew Middleton), Hector’s would-be mistress Suzanne (Tanya Ogden) and her blustering banker husband (Roger Chadbourne) puts paid to any easy resolution to Yvonne’s frustrations or Hector’s sexual stress.
Yeovil’s Swan Theatre is fortunate to have a number of actors whose experience and comic timing ensure that the action moves along at a smart pace. A few opening night nerves and the odd prompt will be ironed out for the rest of the run, ensuring that audiences will go out into the perfumed May nights with a smile.
Congratulations to John Crabtree for his lively resurrection of an early Feydeau success which has been largely forgotten in recent years, and thanks to the Swan Theatre for some silly laughs in these stressful times.