John Cleese / Georges Feydeau
Mercury Theatre Colchester / John Cleese
Mercury Theatre Colchester
From 24 February 2017 to 11 March 2017
Review by Mary Mazzilli
Adapting Georges Feydeau’s hysterical farce, John Cleese brings laughter and pure entertainment to the Colchester stage of the Mercury Theatre.
Leontine (Caroline Langrishe), a respectable lady of high society, is pursued by her husband’s best friend, Dr Moricette (Richard Earl), who is also an erudite poet.
Leontine charmed by his poetry does not give in to his advances till she discovers that her husband Duchotel (Oliver Cotton) is doing more than just hunting for hares and rabbits in his breaks from home.
Among the French 19th century upper class, after all, illicit love is a recurrent, not-so secret affair. And secrets and intrigues unfold a whirlwind of events that take over the stage.
Oliver Cotton as Duchotel and Richard Earl as Dr Moricette have their share of wit and punchlines that distantly echo Fawlty Towers humour. It is Richard Earl that prevails with the most stage time and the most spirited, and the least gracious, punches.
But they both share an amiable bravura and comic timing that makes them a pleasure to watch. They are also the least stereotypical in their self-deprecatory irony, unlike the rest of the cast who are a bit stuck in their over-done mannerism.
There is enough door-slamming, trouser-dropping, lover-hiding, balcony-climbing chaos in the first act to keep the audience awake and laughing. It is also in the first act that the performers break the fourth wall talking directly to the audience.
They even engage in exquisite dance routines in the only actual scene change that we see on stage: the actors themselves, mainly in character, carry in and out furniture and props and adjust the stage, and turn around moving walls. It is in moments like these that we are reminded of the magic of live theatre and of the labour of theatre. Much credit is to be given to David Shields’s design which is both ostentatiously 19th century and functional.
As the action on stage is reprised in the second act, unfortunately, there is much of the same and the freshness wears off a little. It feels as if the show should have ended on a high without bringing much of a resolution, as the resolution is quite obvious from the outset.
There is a sense of a theatre that is bit dated and over the top, which, West-endish and highly theatrical in its execution, is, nevertheless, great to see produced at a regional theatre outside London. If you love unpretentious comedy of manners at its best, this is the number one show.