Fourth Wall Theatre’s production of The Girl from Maxim’s by Georges Feydeau was nothing short of a triumph. Even the standard of Alissa Cooper and Victoria Bull’s costumes, a garish array of suits and dresses, matched the incredibly high standard of the cast. While first nights are infamously prone to awkwardness and stumbles, the few and far between that the cast faced were spun into even more hilarity.
The set was quite elaborate for a student production, adding to the overall tone of extravagance in the “ludicrous farce” created by the director Tyler Rainford. A preamble of vocal performances alluded to the atmosphere of the eponymous Maxim’s nightclub before the audience was thrown into a raucous dancing act, swirling out of control to be closed by a drunken Lucien Petypon (Samuel Arrowsmith) falling back into the stage curtain. This exposition set the scene for the fast-paced frivolity of the production.
Despite her modest and retiring biography in the programme, Annie Davison in the role of Shrimp had both grace and talent. The ease with which she drew the eye in each and every scene she appeared in is credit to her brilliant performance. Her reveal from behind the bold red curtains, which hid a large bed, was typical of the character’s ostentatious displays. This nature was epitomised by “Hoopla… that one’s for me!”, a catchphrase keenly picked up by General Petypon de Grelé (Henry Fell). Fell’s performance as a man both wrapped up in his own self-importance whilst also lusting after Shrimp was second to none. Caught between his supposed niece Shrimp whom he fancies, and his actual niece Gabrielle whom he supposes is mad, Fell’s natural comic timing and confidence was perfectly suited to the General’s general hilarity.
The conservative female lead of Carrie Gaunt (Gabrielle) was perfectly naïve, not once suspecting any foul play from her husband (Arrowsmith). So, the meeting of her and Shrimp, women from entirely different spectrums of society, was an expectedly comic exchange of misunderstanding and deception (all whilst maintaining a very long handshake). The dear “old boot” Gaunt portrayed brought such energy to the role, especially noticeable whilst attempting to tend to wedding guests in the country. Note should also be given to Adam Simpson playing the obnoxious “rah” Captain Corignon. The unnecessarily large and flamboyant bell cuffs fitted the character perfectly and Simpson’s ability to produce such laughter with simple but well delivered lines is tribute of his amusing performance.
With a somewhat unusually large cast, there could have been problems of a weak ensemble letting down the leads, yet this was far from the case. The supporting roles of Roadsweeper (Elliot Mather) and the tittering country gossips (Erin Welch, Angharad Philips, Charlotte Thomas) were as perfectly timed and entertaining as the other great characters of comedy. Mather’s booming presence in the Parisian flat was stark reminder of the ludicrousness of the upper-classes and he made the most of his small role. If not mentioned, it is not due to any downfall of their performance as I could easily have praised any member of the cast at length. Throughout, the lighting and music were used sparingly yet effectively, enabling an infrequent breakdown of the fourth wall for great comical moments.
If there was a qualm with the performance, it would be the chase scene between Gabrielle and Lucien, but this may be subject to my own taste rather than lack of theatrical integrity to the farcical nature of the play. I can frankly say that if the deliciousness of two-for-one pizzas at Domino’s could transformed into a DST production, the result would be Fourth Wall Theatre’s production of The Girl from Maxim’s. If that doesn’t convince you to go to see this performance, I don’t know what will.
Image by Samuel Kirkman