Farce in the round should be impossible, but Sam Walters' skilful and carefully paced production of one of Georges Feydeau's greatest mix-ups proves the opposite: a seasonal treat of invisible door slams, thwarted adultery, alarm bells and hilariously misdirected passion.
Peter Meyer's 40-year-old translation of Le Dindon (ie, “The Turkey,” but really meaning “the dupe,” or “fall guy”) scrubs up very well as the lawyer Vatelin (Stuart Fox) finds his best friend Pontagnac (David Antrobus), “le dindon,” chasing his own highly desirable wife Lucienne (Beth Cordingly).
Lucienne staves him off by saying she’ll only succumb if her husband is caught with his trousers down, so to speak; and, sure enough, Vatelin is soon cornered by a holiday flirtation in the shape of the tweedy Wagnerian spouse of an angry German from Marseille, Heidi (Rebecca Egan).
“Heidi, ho,” exclaims the vexed Vatelin, while Madame de Pontagnac (Amy Neilson Smith), who enters the Paris apartment in full flood the minute she’s been described by her husband as a wheelchair-bound rheumatic safely hidden away in Bordeaux, is embroiled in the crossfire between Heidi’s rampageous German (Jonathan Tafler) and Lucienne’s art dealer secret lover, Redillon (Damien Matthews).
How most of them then end up in the same over-booked bedroom in the Hotel Ultimus – which is primarily occupied by an old couple, the Pinchards (Vincent Brimble as the lecherous old army doctor, and Auriol Smith) celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary – is a matter of sheer conjecture, let alone mystery.
But everything fits in Feydeau, and speeds along like a lethal, well-oiled machine. Alarm bells placed inside the mattress to frame one couple are invariably set off by another: deaf old Mme Pinchard and the reluctantly compromised Vatelin, who’s downed a stray glass of laudanum and found yet another chap’s boots under the bed (“My God, German women have big feet!”).
What I love about Feydeau is the immediacy and cruelty of it all, and the sense of fin de siècle Paris on the run: the play starts with Lucienne fighting off Pontagnac who’s stalked her for days; the Pinchards are going to the opera for a treat; Redillon, caught up with a cocotte, Armandine (Sarah Winter), is literally limp with exhaustion when the two married dames come to cash in their adultery chips.
And it all happens over a hectic 24 hours, with Brian Miller and James Joyce as, respectively, senior and junior representatives of the servant and valet classes, as well as policemen and hotel staff.
A stage manager, Becky Fisher, sits in full view of the audience, providing the door slams and swished curtains on special effects, while Sam Dowson’s setting of sofas and tables is ingeniously transformed into two different apartments as well as a hotel bedroom which makes Piccadilly Circus look like a desert retreat.