There is lots to enjoy in this revival of Georges Feydeau's classic farce at the Old Vic, though I think Richard Eyre's production has probably still a distance to travel before it really flies and the actors begin feeding off the audience. I have a small interest to declare in this show, as I wrote the programme note about Feydeau.
The split-second timing which Feydeau's text requires is fully on show, and the play moves along at a cracking pace; Tom Hollander is very good in the dual roles of Chandebise, the respectable insurance manager, and Poche the drunken hotel porter. Jonathan Cake as his handsome friend, Lisa Dillon as his wife, Fiona Glascott as her friend and Oliver Cotton as the doctor all suggest real characters with a bit of depth. John Marquez is very funny as the mad revolver-wielding Spaniard, and Tim McMullan is the pick of the bunch as Etienne, the oily butler with ideas above his station. Freddie Fox as nephew Camille seems a touch too manic, a 'farcical' character rather than a real person who is plunged into a farcical situation.
Farce has to be fast-paced, but occasionally it has to learn to slow down and vary the speed, which is the key to provoking gales of unstoppable laughter from the audience. Mark Rylance's Tony-winning performance in Boeing-Boeing a few years ago extracted maximum comic effect from being out of synch with the rest of the cast, always half a second behind the others. Hollander as Poche, also a simpleton, has a similar opportunity to vary the pace but doesn't take it, and his character moves and speaks at the same speed as all the others. The activity is frenetic, but sometimes in farce immobility can be funnier. I remember the veteran Eric Sykes in Ray Cooney's Caught In The Net, reducing the audience to jelly with a slight twitch of his zimmer frame. Still, all hail to Feydeau, to the Old Vic and to Richard Eyre, and to the late John Mortimer for his zippy translation. Go and see it. Nobody writes plays like this any more, as I complained recently in a piece for the Guardian website.