If silliness and frivolity float your boat, then you’re in for a thrill at this Richard Eyre’s production at The Old Vic. I think I must have chuckled once during the two hour running time. Admittedly, I had just witnessed a ghastly incident just outside Waterloo Station before I went into the theatre but I sat through this performance observing everything but feeling nothing.
Set in the early 1900s, this French farce is a comedy of errors and it comes with the inevitable entering and exiting of doors, mistaken identities and a good dose of hopping in and out of beds. Raymonde Chandebise believes that her husband, Victor Emmanuel Chandebise, must be having an affair as he hasn’t been quite so amorous in the bedroom recently. With the help of her friend, Lucienne, they decide to trap Victor by sending him a love letter from a secret admirer, inviting him to a rendezvous at the aptly named Hotel Coq d’Or. Lucienne writes this love letter as Victor will not recognise her handwriting. However, Victor shows the letter to his friends, including Lucienne’s husband, the macho and jealous Spaniard Carlos, who concludes that he is being cuckolded and heads to the hotel to kill her.
The second Act takes place at the Hotel Coq d’Or where the farce takes off with a frenzied pace with all of the characters convening there at various times and avoid being caught by their spouses, family and friends. The decadent set design of Hotel Coq d’Or reminded me of Stringfellow’s (not that I have been there, mind you, but one has seen pictures!)
A spanner in the works is that the hotel porter – Poche – is the spitting image of Victor, leading to Raymonde kissing Poche, thinking it is her husband; and Victor being kicked on his posterior as a punishment for not being submissive. Tom Hollander who plays both characters is superb; he flits between both characters in the second Act, sometimes within minutes, vacillating between a boring insurance executive and a drunken porter who is bemused by the attention he is getting from the wealthy Parisian set.
John Marquez who plays the Spaniard husband gives a good performance, even if his character yields to the stereotypes of Spanish men. Raymonde, played by Lisa Dillon, admits in the first act that she herself has a lover but we hear nothing of it thereafter. She is duly worried that her husband maybe having an affair but her own duplicity isn’t explored with any depth in this play, which is disappointing.
If you find speech impediments and the stereotyping of foreigners funny and if you think that you will laugh much at how Coq d’Or is pronounced (with the emphasis on the word Coq), then this is the right play for you. However, if you come expecting sophisticated humour, then you will leave sorely disappointed – just as I did.
A Flea In Her Ear runs till 5 March.