Court in the Act at the Orange Tree Theatre
Zoot alors! You'd imagine that the residents of gentrified Richmond would be more than a little shocked at the prospect of the Orange Tree's latest production, a risqué French farce called Court in the Act. But no, I can safely report that they laughed their socks off, with barely a blush in sight, during artistic director Sam Walters' superlative two-and-a half hour long production.
As the punning title suggests, fin-de-siecle farceurs Maurice Hennequin and Pierre Veber set Court in the Act against the bureaucratic background of the French law-courts, choosing a predatory poule de luxe, music hall actress Gobette, as their central character.
After failing in her attempts to seduce a provincial judge, Tricointe (David Timson), Gobette decides to snare his boss, the outwardly principled Minister of Justice, Cyprien (Richard Heffer), and his urbane secretary, Octave (Nick Fletcher), by posing as Madame Tricointe.
Naturally, with all this philandering, there are places in Robert Cogo-Fawcett and Braham Murray's translation/adaptation where you feel you're in deep into Ray Cooney or Brian Rix territory - there are females déshabilles in cupboards and men caught in flagrante delicto.
But it's the language, too, that sets the tone: this is as bawdy as anything uttered by the baser characters in Shakespeare. For instance, there is mention of a recipe called 'Coq au Lait', which involves 'stuffing a nice plump bird with a long sausage'.
Another source of humour is the way Court in the Act expertly deflates those who appear to be of high moral or social standing. Certainly Cyprien suffers in this respect, but so does the real Madame Tricointe (Auriol Smith) who is shown to be little more than a trumped up kitchen maid with a penchant for polishing brassware.
Walters' repertory players show superb comic timing, notably camisole-clad Lucy Tregear, who brings plenty of ooh-la-la allure to the role of Gobette; moustachioed David Timsonwho plays Tricointe with appropriate amounts of desperation and frustration; and Jeremy Crutchley who plays for laughs-a-plenty as the gendarme, Poche. The latter figure also serves as a device to resolve the plot and inform the other characters of developments.
Tim Meacock's rudimentary set comprises a number of boxes with Louis Seize furniture designs marker-penned onto them. These make economical use of the stage area, and quickly turn from a card table to a chaise longue depending on the scene.
The Orange Tree has shown an impressive track record of late, and this little gem continues the winning streak for the tiny, but respected, theatre-in-the-round. All concerned deserve a big hand for turning out a farce so French, and so saucy, you can almost smell the garlic.