Fourth Wall Theatre present The Girl from Maxim’s, a vibrant farce by Georges Feydeau. In it, a dancer from Maxim’s, Shrimp, unsettles the mundane domesticity which permeates the lifestyle of the Petypons and their friends. Coming close to the naturalistic plays of the period in its theme of criticism of bourgeois hypocrisy, the production nevertheless distances itself entirely from naturalist technique. The play is instead an extravagant display of physicality, with an absurd amount of twists and turns in the action which leaves the audience unsure of a good-hearted resolution until the final curtain call.
The mastery of Samuel Arrowsmith as Lucien Petypon is noticeable from his first appearance on stage from under a sofa. He is relentlessly energetic throughout the length of the three acts, and his facial expressions alone left the audience doubled over with laughter. On the same level of excellence was Henry Fell as General Petypon du Grele whose booming voice and awkwardness around women were too close for comfort in their caricature of a military personage.
Two other members of the cast who shone above the rest were Ben George as Etienne, and Adam Simpson as Captain Corignon. George perpetually amused with his overtly camp gesturing and withering quips at the Petypons. Simpson had the audience in hysterics with his Durham-esque, upper-class accent and confident swagger.
Another minor character who thrilled, Duke de Valmonte, portrayed by Wilf Wort, presented a powerful admixture of cloying flirtatiousness and boyish ineptitude. However occasionally he had the tendency of overpowering the other characters on the stage through the strong physicality of his performance, a mistake easy to fall into when considering the overwhelming vivacity of the entire play.
Annie Davison as Shrimp, the cataclysm that sets off the action, is consistent in her energy throughout the entire production. It is obvious that she is multi-talented, showing off throughout the entire production her skills of acting, singing, and dancing. Yet she must be wary of the transition in her accent from working class to aristocracy. There is little demarcation between the two, allowing the audience to only notice the change when it is explicitly remarked on by the other characters.
The immersive quality of the play is undeniable, with members of the cast lining the walkways of the stage prior to the beginning of the play, and Etienne and Captain Corignon welcoming audience members at the entrance. Of special mention are the two musicians of the Folies Bergere, suitably aloof towards the rest of the cast, and yet unnoticeable as to their exit from and entrance on stage. Their combination of violin and guitar playing, before the main part of the show, are a not-so-common, and yet highly effective duo.
However despite the richness of the script and the exuberance of talent, it was a disappointment to see the set so contrastingly bare. Although the small amount of large objects allowed for the required amount of movement, the absence of general bric-a-brac meant that the Petypon apartment felt uninhabited and little of the comic potential that was there was exploited.
Altogether, the play offers the audience a rich variety of humour, from inelegant falls and stumbles to cheesy puns. Loud and licentious, this comedic endeavour will leave the audience exhausted from the riot and in good spirits for the remainder of the evening.
A Girl from Maxim’s will run until Sat 30 January at The Assembly Rooms Theatre, Durham. Book your tickets here.
Photographs: Samuel Kirkman