17 February 2011

A Flea in Her Ear at the Old Vic

Another theatre offer via work saw me back at the Old Vic this time for a classic French Farce by Georges Feydeau and translated by John Mortimer.

I had seen mixed reviews of the play but a farce is a farce so I went with reasonable hopes of being entertained if not intellectually stretched.

The 507 bus took me almost door-to-door from the office to the theatre and so I arrived early enough to get a seat in the Pit Bar and to eat one of the British Railway standard cheese and tomato sandwiches. The Staropramem lager was a welcome find though.

Going in to the theatre was something of a shock as it was nothing like I remembered it from just a couple of years ago for Complicit. Then the layout of the theatre was proscenium style with clusters of chairs around it but this time it was a typical Victorian theatre with the emphasis on decoration rather than comfort.

The set, a reception room in a grand house, started to allay any fears about the production and it was only the presence of some of the most attentive and dedicated camera-spotters that I've seen in a theatre that prevented me from taking a photo of it. Pity, because I liked the set and cannot find a photo of it on the internet.

The play quickly introduces us to the main characters and the first plot device. The wife of the house suspects her husband of being unfaithful to her and devises a plan to test this. She gets a friend to write to her husband inviting him to an assignation at a hotel with an ill reputation. The friend's husband then arrives and recognising his wife's handwriting things she is up to no good.

Add to this the family doctor and a nephew with a speech impediment (both of whom use the hotel), a manservant with ideas above his station and a gentleman with designs on the wife and the scene is set for the farce. End of Act 1.

Act 2 takes us to the hotel where farce reigns in typical fashion.

People come and go, hiding from each other as they do so, the many doors open and close and confusion triumphs. It may be reasonably predictable but it is delivered with aplomb and the laughter is sincere and continuous. It is genuinely funny.

The misunderstandings which sent the characters to the hotel are resolved in a riotous end to the act but the play's defining feature is that the devises that initiate the farce are them supplemented by another.

The bellboy at the hotel turns out to be the spitting image of the husband. A deceit portrayed simply by getting one actor to play both roles.

Here we see the husband dressed as the bellboy (all part of the story) attacking his wife's amour when earlier the bellboy dressed as the husband had ignored the dalliance.

When the first set of misunderstandings collapse in the hotel the participants flee and gradually they all return to the grand house where the doppelgänger ploy is played out beautifully.

As you might expect, it all ends happily in the end with only minor consequences. Then the audience claps and cheers long and enthusiastically in recognition that they have been royally entertained for a couple of hours. And there is not a lot wrong with that.


  1. This would be a much better review had it mentioned the actor's names.

  2. I don't tend to mention actors in my theatre reviews because, normally, I expect them to be the invisible carriers of the story. If you notice the acting then something has gone wrong.

    In A Flea the characters are all shallow and there is nothing for a good actor to get their teeth in to. It's the farce that matters here not the players.

  3. I walked past the Old Vic for the second time in 4 weeks on Thursday (having not even known where it was before this) and noticed this play advertised...now reading about someone's going to see it makes me determined to book myself in!


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