The One That Got Away (Ustinov Studio) ****

 

Originally published on Whats On Stage

It has proven to be a rather muted 2015 for the Ustinov Studio. Though The Mother was a beautifully aching companion to last years smash The Father, the rest of the work has ranged from the tepid (The Harvest, Outside Mullinger) to the downright embarrassing (Monsieur Popular). Thankfully the year ends with what should be another hit, Laurence Boswell‘s perfectly pitched production of Georges Feydeau’s The One That Got Away. Inducing laughter from its first minute and barely letting up over two and a half hours, it could be prescribed by the NHS to beat the Autumn blues.

Feydeau was the master of construction, his bedroom farces built upon mathematical precision. His plays follow the same formula, the first act introduces us to the characters and their baser needs, the second sends them into a love nest and incorporates revolving doors, dropped trousers and mistaken identities before he resolves everything in act three with the characters back where they started, chastened but not changed. It’s as light as flan but Boswell plays every note with elan. Like a symphony conductor he understands that though the notes are there and the players are primed, it is in the timing and the pitch that the magic is created. After his successful years in the Nineties, in recent times he has been criminally overlooked as one of our countries finest directors but his work in the Ustinov has proven that he has lost none of his ability. You wonder just how much longer Bath will be able to keep hold of him.

Boswell has begun to shape an ensemble under him and it is the regular returnees who stand out here. Richard Clothier is all beguiling charm as a doctor trying to talk his best friend’s wife into being his mistress. He is a cad but like all the best he gets away with it due to a winning glint in his eye and a permanent sense of befuddlement that this game of seduction may not fully work for him.

Frances McNamee, recently a rather miscast Audrey in Salisbury’s Little Shop Of Horrors, is on much surer ground here, her long, equine beauty an obvious aphrodisiac for Clothier’s doctor and her slowly built up furies providing many of the comic highlights. At one moment, imagining her husband with another woman, she swings her umbrella around like a demented musketeer before storming to her desk to write a letter, proposing an amorous tryst with her would be lover. This is a woman, McNamee makes clear, who is no shrinking violet in ensuring she gets what she wants. Joe Alessias the cuckold and indeed cuckolded husband has great fun, making him both pathetic and sympathetic and has the sight gag of the night when his catches from his ‘fishing trips’ are revealed.

Just before the Christmas season gallops into full view The One That Got Awayprovides a different kind of stocking filler. If you leave your thinking hat at the door there is plenty to admire from the godfather of modern farce who inspired the likes of Rix, Ayckbourn and Frayn. The theatre would be a bleaker place without him and the Ustinov have given him a lovingly realised production.

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