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THEATRE: 07 NOVEMBER 2016

By GERALDINE WORTHINGTON

A Flea in Her Ear, adapted by Andrew Upton from the original by Georges Feydeau | Directed by Simon Phillips

Sydney Theatre Company (https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au) | Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House | Until 17 December

 A Flea in Her Ear is a 1907 French farce by a master of the genre, Georges Feydeau, who wrote more than 60 plays. Andrew Upton’s fresh adaptation of probably Feydeu’s best known play, opens in the opulent apartment of Victor Emmanuel (David Woods) and his wife, Raymonde (Harriet Dyer).

Raymonde has suspected for some time that Victor Emmanuel is having an affair — hence the play’s title. She confides in her bestie, Lucienne, (Helen Christianson) and together they devise a plot to trap her husband. Lucienne writes a letter posing as an unknown admirer and invites him to meet her at the Snatch Time Hotel, a house of ill repute.

Of course things do not go to plan. Victor Emmanuel gives the letter to his bachelor friend, Marcel Tournel (Tim Walter), assuming it is for him. Lucienne’s husband, the ferocious South American Carlos Homenides De Histangua (Justin Smith) sees the letter, recognizes his wife’s handwriting, goes crazy, threatens to shoot everyone, and departs for the hotel. Indeed, for various reasons, virtually the entire cast ends up in the hotel.

And as if the rush of guests were not enough to create chaos, the hotel’s drunken porter Poche (David Woods) resembles Victor Emmanuel and the whole night becomes increasingly riotous, with much slamming of doors, shrieks and slaps across the face.

The enduring appeal of farce lies in the hilarity of action, combined with outrageously frenzied mix-ups and mistaken identities. As a result, characters are not fully developed sufficiently for us to care about them. Rather, they are always racing the clock, constantly running in and out of doors.

It demands a team effort, in which everyone is totally reliant on everyone else and this stellar STC ensemble are impressively energetic and physically precise. Collectively, they convey a most disciplined delivery of the chaotic comings and goings of the increasingly complicated plot line.

Simon Phillips’ mathematical direction orchestrates the manic misunderstandings with crisply comic timing and split-second synchronicity.

Gabriela Tylesova’s detailed, decadent and elegant Art Nouveau set design is exquisite in Act One, sumptuously bringing to life Victor’s grand bourgeois home. Juxtaposed dramatically in the Second Act where the sleazy hotel is craftily designed to provide all the doors necessary to be entered and exited and slammed at speed.

Upton’s tongue-in-cheek, up-to-the minute adaptation of this predictable bedroom farce is meticulously directed by Phillips who orchestrates all this needle-sharp comic timing to culminate in a mounting delirium of split-second synchronicities and a myriad of misunderstandings.

A Flea in Her Ear was written primarily to amuse and amuse it does.

Bottoms up!

Images: Brett Boardman.