The Threesome at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

You know what you're going to get with a French farce and Eugène Labiche is master of the genre. Husband betraying wife, wife betraying husband, a missing letter, a saucy maid, a stag's head (stag's head?). All the elements are present and correct in Neil Bartlett's lively translation of the farceur supreme's Le Plus Heureux des Trois.

Farce has somewhat gone out of fashion. Perhaps to flourish it needs a society with a veneer of respectability. Nineteenth century France may have been the era of cabarets and brothels, the can-can and the ooh-la-la, but it was also a time when bourgeois sensibilities held sway.

It's hard to imagine farce beguiling the theatre-going public today when tabloids regularly portray the innermost secrets of broken-down marriages and adulterous liaisons. Characters would be under no pressure to cover up their misdeeds; but in The Threesome they must, hence the requirement to come up with a series of outlandish excuses when caught with a length of drainpipe in one's hand.

To make a farce work, it is important not to overact, the characters must perform the most illogical acts and say the most preposterous things, but they are driven by a compelling need to appear respectable.

This cast, in this instance, succeeds perfectly. Paul Shelley is the very epitome of a smug, self-satisfied and complacent husband Alphonse, Deborah Findlay is breathlessly ingenious as the adulterous wife, who is having an affair with Neil Stuke's Ernest, Alphonse's best friend.

Needless to say, there's plenty of scope for misunderstandings, bizarre hiding places and some outrageous double-entendres as director Gordon Anderson keeps the pace going from beginning to end.

Add a delicious cameo by Brenda Gilhooly as the scheming maid and what is undoubtedly this year's best performance by an Alsatian with a beetle in his trousers by Paul Bradley and you have a recipe for a truly excellent night out.

Maxwell Cooter