Sauce for the Goose, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

I really should have taken a friend to see this show, to watch their delight on first encountering director Sam Walters’ solution to staging farce in the round. Since so many farces depend on a multitude of entrances and exits, and since cluttering up such a stage with doors would block the view for many of the audience, Walters has his casts mime the opening and closing of doors, while a stage manager, visible in one corner, “Foleys” the sound effects. This is both an engaging piece of whimsy and an inventive solution to a practical quandary. It is not, however, a piece of flippancy. Walters is admirably strict about prohibiting his actors from showing any consciousness that they are in a farce. Actors and characters alike take the situation entirely seriously, letting the heat build naturally until steam whistles out of the dramatic spout.

There is little point in trying to summarise the action in Georges Feydeau’s Le Dindon, revived here in a puckish version by the late Peter Meyer. It is close enough for jazz (and farce is a kind of jazz, really) to say that everyone is either attempting or resisting adultery with everyone else, except the elderly couple mistakenly occupying the Parisian hotel room where all paths converge in the second of the three acts. That stage manager has her work cut out, since as well as all those invisibly slamming doors there is a kind of nookie alarm consisting of two electric bells slipped beneath the mattress. Yet there is also a tart, acidic tang to Feydeau’s writing: there may be a happy ending (after some more rushing around in the apartment of one of the would-be adulterers), but the marriages in the play seem precariously contingent on the partners’ sense of conjugal equity.

Orange Tree regulars anchor the cast: Stuart Fox is the husband falsely suspected of betrayal, David Antrobus and Damien Matthews his friends who are conspicuously up for it but with varying degrees of success. Beth Cordingly keeps a fine poker face as the wife attempting to establish hubby’s fidelity or otherwise. This is a farce, and a production, that squares the circle: the action moves like a well-oiled machine while the characters remain thoroughly and hearteningly human.

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