It is panto season. Time for silliness, japery and fun without too much thought required... which is exactly what adult audiences can expect from A Flea In Her Ear at the Old Vic.
Theatregoers who still want a bit of subtlety, philosophy and a work out for the grey matter on a cold December night should probably look elsewhere, but those of us who want to clear the chill and warm ourselves up with a night of thought-free laughter need look no further.
Feydeau's farce revolves around a worried wife who believes her husband's recent lack of interest in the bedroom department is born out of his having an affair. With a friend she concocts a plan to entrap him with a rendezvous at a local hotel notorious for its nighttime – and daytime for that matter – activities, but in doing so creates a circus in which a whole host of characters become cross and confused, and generally clown about.
While it looks silly, the workings of Richard Eyre's production, John Mortimer's translation and Feydeau's original are anything but, the success of the show lying squarely with the timing of entrances and exits, glances, movements and reactions. Under Eyre's direction the cast moves with a precision that would make Accurist envious.
There are more opening and closing doors than on an indecisive Advent calendar and more panicked glances than in a poorly stocked toy shop on Christmas Eve. At one point, with characters running in all directions – through doorways, up stairs, into hidden compartments – I was expecting Scooby Doo to appear. It is frantic stuff and all the better for it.
The cast of West End regulars deliver performances blown fabulously out of proportion, with Tom Hollander delighting as both the pinched, worried insurance-peddling husband and a wide-eyed, drunken servant who becomes the source of much confusion. For all of Hollander's comic excellence and Lisa Dillon's breathy support as the melodramatic wife, the show is almost stolen by John Marquez, who serves up a jealous Spanish lover with more ham than a Boxing Day buffet. Some might call it over the top, but in this production, where every decision is based purely on enjoyment and wringing the most fun out of the evening, it drew the biggest applause of the night.