A Flea in Her Ear

Surrendering to the insanity that is Feydeau's farce "A Flea in Her Ear" is a case of "double your pleasure, double your fun."

Victor Emmanuel Chandebise/Poche - Tom Hollander
Raymonde Chandebise - Lisa Dillon
Camille Chandebise - Freddie Fox
Etienne Plucheux - Tim McMullan L
ucienne Homenides de Histangua - Fiona Glascott
Carlos Homenides de Histangua - John Marquez
Dr. Finache - Oliver Cotton
Augustin - Lloyd Hutchinson

Surrendering to the insanity that is Feydeau’s farce “A Flea in Her Ear” is a case of “double your pleasure, double your fun.” Why? Because the “are they/aren’t they having an affair” shenanigans are topped off with a whirlwind mistaken identity plot with one actor playing both upstanding Victor and lamebrain porter Poche. To say that Tom Hollander seizes that opportunity is a major understatement. His breathtaking combination of lightning physical precision and shockingly true confusion are beyond price. Richard Eyre’s production sometimes mistakes speed for comedy, but farce fans won’t be disappointed.

From a jealous Spaniard (explosively foot-stamping John Marquez) to a snobby butler (exhaustingly disdainful Tim McMullan) via a louche Welsh hotelier (Di Botcher) and a furiously uptight German (Walter van Dyk) it’s unlikely that, outside of an antique joke, you’ll ever find so many comedy stereotypes in one place.

Popular on Variety

Yet the carefully controlled exaggeration of Eyre’s production stops all this from teetering over into offence. That’s particularly good news considering that one particularly absurd plotline concerns a cleft palette. With and, most particularly, without the doctor’s device that cures his affliction, Freddie Fox’s Camille is both frantic and marvelously benign. And it’s his snatched illicit kiss with maid Antoinette (beady Maggie Service) in the opening seconds that sets the crucial tone of high-speed desperation.

From there on in, events grow increasingly complicated. Almost everyone is up to no good, but wrongly convinced her husband Victor is having an affair, Raymonde (Lisa Dillon) and her friend Lucienne (Fiona Glascott) write a note to him luring him to an assignation at the notorious Hotel Coq D’Or. Lucienne’s husband intercepts the note and thinks his own wife is faithless and, after a first act of everyone rushing in and out of plots, he and everyone else hurtles off to the hotel to trap each other.

After the formality of Victor’s grandly bourgeois home, Rob Howell’s second act set for the gilded but grimy hotel feels like a seriously abrupt shift in gear. Although it provides the farce necessity of doors solid enough for the slamming, its cramped space doesn’t quite allow for the action to breathe. And in this act in particular, the haste in the ensemble playing becomes so furious that the links between the characters become blurred which lessens the comedy. Lose sight of the stakes in farce and it all becomes enervating.

The final act, however, keeps everything in balance. It also features Tom Hollander at his matchless best. His ability to make a character’s thoughts instantly legible hits paydirt as he ricochets between not one but two people in chaos. He has the true comedian’s gift of being able seemingly to stretch time with the equivalent of a held reaction shot. He reduces the audience to hysterics as he skids to a halt and with one baleful expression makes you see him thinking: “You understand, I don’t. Help me!”

With a cast of 14 plus five non-speaking roles, this is hardly the safest bet for a transfer, but production’s exuberance should happily fill the Old Vic coffers.

A Flea in Her Ear

The Old Vic, London; 963 seats; £48.50 $75.46 top

Production: An Old Vic Theater & Sonia Friedman Prods. presentation of a play in two acts by Georges Feydeau, translated by John Mortimer. Directed by Richard Eyre.

Creative: Sets by Rob Howell; costumes by Sue Blane; lighting, Mark Henderson; sound, Gregory Clarke; music, Stephen Warbeck; production stage manager, Richard Clayton. Opened, reviewed Dec. 14, 2010. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Victor Emmanuel Chandebise/Poche - Tom Hollander
Raymonde Chandebise - Lisa Dillon
Camille Chandebise - Freddie Fox
Etienne Plucheux - Tim McMullan L
ucienne Homenides de Histangua - Fiona Glascott
Carlos Homenides de Histangua - John Marquez
Dr. Finache - Oliver Cotton
Augustin - Lloyd HutchinsonWith: Di Botcher, Jonathan Cake, Rebecca Night, William Maxwell, Maggie Service, Walter van Dyk.

More Legit

  • Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening

    'West Side Story' Broadway Opening Night Sparks Protests

    Roughly 100 protestors gathered outside the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” on Thursday night, carrying placards and chanting in unison to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they cried while holding signs that read “Keep predators off the stage,” “Sexual predators shouldn’t get [...]

  • West Side Story review

    'West Side Story': Theater Review

    Whittled down to one hour and forty-five minutes, “West Side Story” – with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins — has grown exceedingly dark and mislaid some of its moving parts in the new Broadway revival from edgy Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. (Can [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Closing in March After Box Office Struggles

    “The Inheritance,” a sprawling and ambitious epic that grappled with the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, will close on March 15. The two-part play has struggled mightily at the box office despite receiving strong reviews. Last week, it grossed $345,984, or 52% of its capacity, a dispiriting number for a show that was reported to [...]

  • MCC theater presents 'Alice By Heart'

    Steven Sater on Adapting 'Alice by Heart' From a Musical to a Book

    When producers approached lyricist Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”) to adapt Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into a musical, his initial reaction was to recoil. His initial thought was that the book didn’t have a beginning, middle and an ending. But Sater pulled it off with his production of “Alice By Heart.” After an off-Broadway [...]

  • The Lehman Trilogy review

    Sam Mendes' 'Lehman Trilogy' Kicks off Ahmanson's New Season

    Sam Mendes’ “The Lehman Trilogy,” which took London’s West End by storm will be part of the Ahmanson’s lineup for the 2020-21 season. It will be joined by Broadway hits “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Artistic director Michael Ritchie announced the season that will also feature four fan favorites and another production to be [...]

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content