James Fleet who stars in this production, was in the first professionally produced Shakespeare play that I ever saw. It was an RSC production of Taming of the Shrew directed by Jonathan Miller and starring Brian (the better Hannibal Lecter) Cox and Fiona (there’s a danger she’ll only be remembered for playing Mrs Dursley in the Harry Potter films) Shaw, back in 1988. Not really relevant to a modern take on a sex farce but it gives me the opportunity to mention that I completed the set of 37 main Shakespeare plays last year when I saw Titus Andronicus. I’d like to pretend that this gives me the right not to allow people to pontificate about Shakespeare within my earshot, without my written permission but it wouldn’t be enforceable even if it were true.
I have the feeling that I’m not going to be pleasant about this play so I would like to say that I enjoyed myself, got all the jokes and laughed in all the right places. It was only afterwards that the doubts started to creep in. It is a rather well thought out and constructed but I felt that I could still see the scaffolding. I sometimes found it too obvious when future gags were setup, an example being the two identical suitcases that you knew were going to get swapped at some point.
I reckon the biggest problem with trying to create farce these days is the sex. It is handled well here (a touch of the Measure for Measure or All’s Well that Ends Well) but in general the problem with sex these days is that it’s too easy. Sex farces used to be based on people desperately attempting to have sex but being prevented by the forces of morality or society, the agents of those forces or the vicar. Here the desperation for sex of the hero was the same but most of the characters are happy to help him out. Sex is no longer meant seen to be naughty or to be giggled at, it is actually rather serious, potentially hurtful and only to be avoided through great effort and strength of will. This play may have got it about right but how many other ways are there of doing it (doing it, he-he)?
Another thing that bugged me was the depiction of women, while I didn’t find them sexist or stereotypical they did seem to conform to some well-worn archetypes. You have a mild German version of the dragon lady, a French nymphomaniac of a certain age and an intelligent, capable, sexy-yet-unavailable young woman who might as well have been called Polly and played by Connie Booth. Most disheartening was Carla Mendonca’s character whose sole function seemed to be to show various forms of disappointment with her man while not actually contributing much to the comedy. I know the writer is a bloke but I’ve seen women do comedy, I’ve even seen Carla Mendonca doing comedy; I just wish he’d made more imaginative use of them. Of course similar things could probably be said about the male characters if I’d bothered to notice.