The Game Hunter
Georges Feydeau, translated by Richard Cottrell
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
Many people have had bad experiences with farce and avoid the genre like the plague. Done badly, it can become unutterably tedious. For fans but also the sceptical, Sam Walters' excellently envisioned version of Feydeau proves that done well, farce can be real fun. It can even make some serious comments on life.
The plot doesn't matter that much. The fact that all of the protagonists consider themselves good Catholics is an interesting social comment. Duchotel (Philip York) is a scoundrel who is cheating on his wife (Amanda Royle) with Madame Cassagne. She, in turn is tempted by his best friend, a doctor named Moricet (Stuart Fox). Their nephew Gontran (Jake Thornton) sees himself as something of a rake. The whole lot of them end up together in a hotel run by a Countess (Janet Spencer-Turner) who is down on her luck.
This is a recipe for many misunderstandings, some passion and fear and a suitably happy ending as hypocrisy and philandering are replaced by promises of eternal fidelity.
What makes Sam Walters' co-production with Alan Ayckbourn's Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough so good is that he constantly questions standard production values. For The Game Hunter, he dispenses with doors, bells and whistles and replaces them with a foley artist (Sam Tagg) who is visible throughout. She has a more energetic time than the actors, ensuring that all of the sounds come in on time. Don't worry though. There are still lost trousers and telegrams, screams of "My husband!" and slapstick policemen to remind aficionados that this is the real thing.
Playing farce in the round in The Orange Tree's small space makes it intimate and involves the audience. In fact, at one stage, when Gontran joins Moricet in bed, a gentleman in the front row almost got dragged in too.
The acting is universally good, with Amanda Royle perhaps the pick as she is so good with her pithy asides to the audience and, when angry, turns positively puce. Even if you think that all words beginning with F are obscene (French, farce and Feydeau anyway), do give The Game Hunter a go. You will almost certainly be very pleasantly surprised.
The welcome is also remarkably friendly at this charming theatre. Not only is Sam Walters the artistic director and director of this play, he will probably even show you to your seat!
Reviewer: Philip Fisher