Artistic director Sam Walters’ current production in the small Orange Tree theatre, Georges Feydeau’s The Game Hunter, could properly be subtitled (to ill-quote Ratigan), ‘French Without Doors’. It is, indeed a doorless French farce.
Utilising radio-style, synchronised sound effects managed by a game ASM off-set, but in sight of the audience, the frenetic door slams, are all mimed by the hard working cast to excellent and amusing effect, thus maximising use of the space. It really does add to the entertainment value of this marvellous piece of theatre.
Farce as we know it, was developed in early 19th century France, and Feydeau wrote more than 40 of them, including Hotel Paradiso and A Flea in Her Ear. His bedroom farces tell of the high times of the low life in Paris's ‘demi-mondaine’, and are noted for their great wit and complex plots, featuring misunderstandings and coincidences, and what one critic dubbed "jack-in-the-box construction".
In the current incarnation, Moricet (Stuart Fox) is salivating over his best friend’s wife Leontine (Amanda Royle), whilst her lascivious husband Duchotel (Philip York) pursues his own adulterous agenda with his mistress. An evening of passion is spiked when all parties (together with a sneaky nephew, an ill-used husband, and a police inspector) converge in an apartment building run by the Countess of Northern Latour, a down-on-her luck member of the aristocracy. There is much scampering around and hiding in beds, behind (non-existent) doors and cupboards, all tirelessly undertaken with enthusiasm at a high gallop.
The Orange Tree has developed an enviable reputation for ensemble playing and The Game Hunter, proves no exception. The sparkling dialogue is crisply delivered in Richard Cottrell’s 1964 translation and Royle is particularly effective in her soft-spoken playing of the victim and revenge-taker. Fox is suitably harassed as her paramour, whilst Janet Spencer-Turner presents an extraordinary cameo as the Countess, in a style not unreminsicent of the late, lamented Joan Greenwood. The entire cast is uniformly excellent.
On press night an A-team of national critics, were laughing out loud. And so was I. This is a perfect Spring pick- me- up.
- Stephen Gilchrist