Farce is harder to realize successfully than many think. It needs a consistent style, actors who are adept vocally and physically and who bring some of their own personality to the roles and who fuse into an ensemble (farce is a team sport), tempo and a light touch.
This week I saw two classic farces back to back. Nicolai Gogol's 1834 classic, THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR under Richard Jones's direction at the Young Vic and Shakespeare's COMEDY OF ERRORS performed by Edward Hall's Propellor at the Hampstead. Both were highly enjoyable but COMEDY OF ERRORS was something special -- one of the funniest performances I have seen in a long time.
THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR is still timely. A bunch of mediocre, corrupt local officials are terrified of the impending visit of a government inspector. They mistakenly think a dissolute young man staying at the hotel is the august personage, so they wine and dine and bribe him. He is more than happy to accept the food and drink, the money, everyone's rapt attention at his outlandish stories about himself, and the attentions of the mayor's wife and daughter. The young man is a loser who is full of grandiose fantasies about himself the townspeople completely accept. The officials are idiots. Like many contemporary directors, Richard Jones plays THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR as a stylized, highly theatrical extravaganza. When the curtain rises, the mayor is having a nightmare. The word "Incognito" flashes all over the set and he is confronted by two large rats. Julian Barratt's mayor is a descendent of John Cleese's hotelier in FAWLTY TOWERS, always on the brink of a hissy fit. His underlings are a bizarre lot. His wife and daughter dress in their bizarre idea of high fashion. Kyle Soller plays the young imposter competently. He just doesn't have much of an individual personality and he works a bit too hard. We shouldn't see the effort in farce. The sets and costumes are purposely and delightfully hideous. The tempo is fast, but GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR is a long play -- too long --some of the first act could have been cut. David Harrower's translation is lively and witty.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS in Mexico instead of Ephesus? Why not? The costumes are perhaps nineteen-sixties or out of a terrible thrift shop. The set is covered in graffiti. The cast act and serve as a backup band. If one wants a production of COMEDY OF ERRORS that is character driven or that suggests that there is any emotional weight to the play, this isn't it. Instead we have a raucous vaudeville that is an absolute joy to experience (not for everyone -- some spoilsports left at the interval). I haven't laughed so hard in the theater in years.
Propellor is an all-male company, so we have grown men as the female characters. In this case, they play up the tacky drag.
The production is full of wonderful surprises, including an interval charity concert given by the cast in the bar during the interval.
THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR. Young Vic Theatre. June 22, 2011. THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. Hampstead Theatre. June 23, 2011.