A Fierce Farce
This early twentieth century play, which feels more nineteenth century, fits the dictionary definition of a farce. It is fast-paced, packed with misunderstandings, sexual innuendos, mistaken identities, a doppelgänger and plots to uncover suspected infidelity which inevitably go awry. A Flea in Her Ear contains slapstick and other forms of physical humour, including characters chasing or fleeing other characters in and out of different rooms. At one point it comprises of a merry- go- round of bawdy bed-hopping and the rapid opening and slamming of doors. A Flea in Her Ear also has a lot of clever and funny word play. The characters are deliberate caricatures, highlighting the hypocrisy of the sexual mores of the upper middle classes at the turn of twentieth century France.
There are also a few stereotypes, which show us how far we have come today. I was uncomfortable with how a character, Chandebise’s nephew Camille, was mocked and belittled, albeit with humorous effect, because of his speech impediment. Dr Finache’s diagnosis of this, made it clear that Camille had a cleft palate, which can cause the symptoms Camille displayed, which were: nasal sounding and unclear speech, which the other characters had difficulty understanding and was very comical. I am of course aware that the play is a product of its time and that I was viewing this from a 21st century perspective. Furthermore Camille’s speech impediment is used as a key plot device, which means that various incidents wouldn’t occur without it.
There are several outstanding performances; Tracy Coogan as the coolly calculating and hypocritical Raymonde, wife of Chandebise, and Hanna Luna as Raymonde’s shrieking, hysterical friend, Lucienne. Michael Claff smoothly and quickly transitioned between 2 characters with completely different personalities; the bourgeois Chandebise and the definitely common Poche. Thea Kramer’s hilarious portrayal of a Prussian woman, Schwarz, is perhaps a modern twist to the play. Georges Feydeau had originally written Schwarz as a male guest in the hotel. Changing the gender arguably makes the character more sexy and less sleazy, works well, and toys with our preconceptions about female sexuality in that period, even though her character is consciously stereotypical. Jay Ramji is also excellent, presenting us with a witty and saucy Dr Finache. Although I have my misgivings about how Camille is treated, James Bruce provides us with a very authentic and funny portrayal of him.
A Flea in Her Ear is entertaining and doesn’t take itself too seriously, neither should we. Farce is a difficult form of comedy to get right, fortunately Acting Gymnasium’s talented cast excel with their superb timing and tremendous energy in this acrobatically verbal and physical comedy.
A Flea in Her Ear presented by The Acting Gymnasium at Theatro Technis from 10 to 24 November 2018.