In A Chorus Line, one character sings, “Goodbye twelve, goodbye thirteen, hello love.” It’s time, meanwhile, for us to bid goodbye to 10, and say hello to 11. Critics invariably end the year with a round-up column of their own highs, lows, trends and wishes, and I duly filed mine for The Stage here and for the Sunday Express here.
Regular readers of this blog will, of course, know of some of my regular preoccupations, like the healthy differences of critical opinion you will find between those of us who report on the theatre for a living,
The latest example of this occurred just before Christmas when A Flea in Her Ear opened at the Old Vic. Because I was undergoing back surgery the very next day after it opened, I went in to an earlier preview the Friday before, with permission, and watched it in nearly stony silence – duly reflected in my Stage review here. As I was driven to the hospital, I stopped to pick up the morning papers – and there was Billington telling me that I’d in fact seen “a heartlessly funny evening of whirlwind insanity; and my new year wish is that we return to a genre that Eric Bentley once dubbed ‘the quintessence of theatre’.”
But then there’s nothing to divide opinion quite like comedy, and the very visceral way we can measure whether it works for us: did it actually make us laugh, and how much? So I was greatly relieved when I turned next to Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph, where he declared the show’s failure to tickle his funny-bone: “There is only one infallible indicator of a good farce. There should be moments, and preferably many of them, when it becomes physically impossible to stop laughing. And just when you think you have got a grip on yourself, the eruptions should begin again. By this strict and foolproof test Richard Eyre’s revival of Feydeau’s A Flea in her Ear (1907), in a translation by the great John Mortimer, fails, and fails miserably. I managed the occasional snigger, the odd weak chortle, and the occasional half-hearted chuckle. Most of the time I sat stony-faced and wondering what had gone wrong.” And he concludes, “This is the kind of deadly evening that will be best enjoyed by those who lack a sense of humour.”
There’s always a danger, of course, that we’re the ones missing the joke. Charlie duly wrote to me later the same day to say, “Just seen your review of A Flea in Her Ear on The Stage website. Was feeling rather lonely in thinking it was dire and laboriously unfunny so you cheered me up!”
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan