Sauce for the Goose

Georges Feydeau, translated by Peter Meyer

Orange Tree, Richmond

From 19 December 2012 to 02 February 2013

Review by Philip Fisher

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The best farces make audiences laugh uncontrollably. In recent years, One Man, Two Guvnors (which at least contains farcical elements) and Noises Off have done this but the original master was the great French farceur, Georges Feydeau.

Sauce for the Goose, which is set in fin de siècle Paris, is an absolute classic of the genre. In the sure hands of Sam Walters, laughter is almost guaranteed and he duly delivers in this latest Orange Tree farce without doors, making the most of a very attractive Sam Dowson-designed set, quite possibly influenced by the Pop Art of Michael Craig Martin.

Instead of doors and bells, the tireless Becky Flisher runs a foley board that provides almost ceaseless aural satisfaction to enhance the comedy going on all around her.

The plot could be used as an archetype. No fewer than four couples get themselves into an intricately plotted web of philandering, interweaving their love lives to hilarious effect.

The problems start as hapless Pontagnac, played by David Antrobus back to acting after directing the last show here, Love's Comedy, chases after Beth Cordingly's happily married Lucienne.

Stuart Fox as her seemingly virtuous husband Vatelin takes this remarkably well—better than her other admirer Redillon, Damien Matthews. The former is right not to be proud as he has his own skeleton which comes in the form of German Heidi, Rebecca Egan vamping madly as she attempts to escape Jonathan Tafler as her husband, each vying for the worst accent of the year award.

Jealousy and lust vie for supremacy throughout an opening act that is much funnier than those of most farces where they merely act as an hors d'oeuvre to a rich main course.

Having introduced all of the potential for hilarity, the second act inevitably takes place in a hotel room that boasts multiple occupancy.

Tension builds as all of the above-named roll up along with Sarah Winter as flighty Armandine.

They all get trumped with the arrival of M and Mme Pinchard, an elderly couple celebrating their 40th anniversary. Vincent Brimble is a delight as the former, while the Orange Tree's chatelaine, Auriol Smith, is even better as the deaf matron caught up in the terrifying web of illicit passion. A measure of this actress's great ability to portray the aged realistically is her remarkable similarity to the critic's late, greatly venerated, centenarian grandmother.

By the interval, audience members will probably be grateful for a rest from all of the laughter which peaks in a scene that makes the most of innumerable lovers falling over each other and a couple of bells that herald chaos.

In the concluding act there is something of a reckoning leading into a dénouement that allows the evening to end implausibly happily after just over 2½ delicious hours.

Seasonal offerings do not come much better than this so there is every chance that the Orange Tree will be sold out right through to the end of the run at the beginning of February. It certainly deserves to be.