Monkey's Uncle

David Lewis
Orange Tree, Richmond
(2005)

Beth Cordingly, David Leonard and Paul Kemp

As a variation on the annual Orange Tree Feydeau farce, this year, Sam Walters has invited David Lewis to write his own version.

Keeping to the traditional formula, the first two acts are traditional French farce with the twist that two of the characters are louche Georges Feydeau himself, played by David Leonard, and his long-suffering but nagging wife Marianne, energetically portrayed by Amanda Royle.

The first act in their living room sets up the subsequent fun in the hotel room where numerous lovers, fall over each other in their attempts to satisfy illicit desires.

As this is the Orange Tree, the invisible doors are replaced by a visible Foley Artist, hard-working Deputy Stage Manager, Sophie Acreman, while Vicki Fifield has immaculately created a set that cleverly converts between acts.

The comedy takes a little time to get into gear despite Lewis's sharply written script but when it does so, it arrives in a rush. Every male part requires the actor to spend more time without trousers than with and the circle of sexual deception is almost complete.

Feydeau is chasing would-be actress Cecile (Beth Cordingly) who is after the bearded Toulouse Lautrec-like doctor (Stuart Fox). Her husband, a police officer whose animal impressions bring the house down (Alister Cameron), falls for the maid, inevitably Yvette (Sam Dowson) who loves the boss etc. etc.

Nothing is terribly surprising, although Marianne does have a habit of wickedly deconstructing the genre with the assistance of a serious writer, Paul Kemp's grumpy, put-upon but believably loveable Louis Levasseur. This sad loser is the nephew of the Monkey de Sade! Kemp also offers a wonderful slapstick routine, as his efforts to hide with all places taken allow him to imitate a maddened (trouserless) wasp with hilarious results.

The novelty comes in the third act when the plot is played out in traditional fashion but updated to the current time. The best creation is today's Yvette, a gum-chewing, slovenly French au pair.

The farce continues towards its inevitable ending as our writer gains a century. He still plagiarises as much as he satirises and philanders, however in this case for England rather than France.

Monkey's Uncle is directed by Sam Walters with his customary skill. It is a brave attempt to add a little freshness to an age-old genre and is a partial success. At its best, this modern farce can be very funny in both periods but also drags at times when trouser falls sometimes seem to be used as a substitute for better ideas.

Farce fans will love it but even the more wary should find enough laughs and novelties to allow for an enjoyable evening.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher