Bang Bang!, the new adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s Monsieur Chasse, is oozing with John Cleese’s signature farcical comedy. The crowd didn’t hold back their laughter at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre last night.
The play revolves around Duchotel (Tony Gardener), a well-to-do 1890’s Frenchman, and his wife Leontine (Tessa Peake-Jones). Duchotel is off on a hunting trip, as far as his wife is concerned, but it soon transpires he is after different ‘prey’. Fuelled by rage, Leontine declares to give him a taste of his own medicine, assisted by Duchotel’s visiting friend Moricet (Richard Earl), who happens to be in love with her. A twisted web of lies creates the classic farce humour, assisted by the odd trouser drop and door-slam.
Although set in 1890s Paris, audiences ‘recognise the universal human appetites and foibles that fuel Feydeau’s comedy,’ explains the director, Daniel Buckroyd. The very constitution of marriage is questioned, as well as a wife’s duty to be faithful despite finding her husband has not been.
The highlight of the show was the cunning set change, often the trickiest to coordinate, in which Madam Latour (Wendi Peaters) gives a courageous introductory song, whist the male cast members, dressed as removal men, rearrange the set. The intricately period-decorated set twists before the spectators, with sleight of hand allowing the audience to only see the beauty of the set change, and not the fiddly bits. Although somewhat out-of-the-blue, this well choreographed logistical scene was very impressive.
Cleese has been faithful to Feydeau’s plot, whilst injecting his own comic sensibilities. Continuously making the audience chuckle were the asides directed at them. The blatant disregard for the fourth wall was almost panto like. Duchotel’s direct acknowledgement of them – ‘I wasn’t talking to you Leontine, I was talking to the audience,’ received a particularly loud guffaw. However one would be forgiven for thinking the joke was getting a little old by the second act.
Gardener’s visible squirming as his character realises he’s been caught out is particularly pleasing. It’s satisfying to see his unfaithful character so uncomfortable and put-on-the-spot. Its clear he is able to read an audience as an actor, and his amusing ad-libs did not go unnoticed by them. The comic timing of the actors at points was spot on, for example when Inspector Bridois (Simon Desborough) tells them to sit, Earl and Peak-Jones are perfectly in time. However, it could have been sharper when the joke is revisited in the second act.
All the traits of a classic bedroom farce are there – the wrong man is arrested, the maid with the funny accent knows all, and several characters hide in a wardrobe! There’s no denying you will have fun.
Bang Bang! plays at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford until 7 March 2020.