‘A Bedfull of Foreigners’ lands on Coquitlam’s door this week
She’s one of the most assiduous producers of farce in this region.
But Ellie King, founder and artistic director of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company, admits that it is only 10 years ago since she directed her first.
That was Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, at the late Burr Theatre in New Westminster, where she was formerly resident artistic director.
“I’d seen a few farces,” said King, also well-known as a champion of the traditional English Christmas pantomime. “But the idiom hadn’t really appealed to me that much.”
She feels now that it was only because she’d seen the wrong farces — done in the wrong way.
Flash forward a decade and King is now presenting her latest in the idiom, titled A Bedfull of Foreigners, by Dave Freeman, at Coquitlam’s Evergreen Cultural Centre this week, a follow-up to a healthy response to last year’s offering, No Sex, Please, We’re British.
Working with a hand-picked cast, including such reliables as Sam Gordon, Wendy Bollard, Becky Hachey and Nicole Smashnuk (who were all in No Sex), plus strong players Walter Ekins, Gary Peterman and Brett Harrison, she’s pleased at how everything has come together in this door-slammer set in a seedy hotel on the French-German border.
The whole mess is predicated on a simple incident: a wife (Smashnuk) leaves her husband (Gordon) alone in a hotel room for a few hours, setting in motion a series of disasters that follow one on another like a series of dominoes.
“It appealed to me as sort of a Fawlty Towers-meets-Benny Hill kind of situation, and heaven knows I’ve stayed in enough hotels like this on the Continent,” King said.
Freeman’s script fulfills King’s vision of the farce as something akin to an aircraft on a runway. It starts off grounded and connected to reality, but after an event fires the engines it accelerates faster and faster until it is airborne. “And there’s no parachute,” she adds.
But there is still a need for the connection to reality, she contends.
“No matter how crazy it gets, the audience still needs to be engaged with the characters.”
The problem with farce, like pantomime, is that seems easier to do than it is, King said. Effects that seem arbitrary and chaotic in performance must be meticulously planned and timed during rehearsal.
Farce also calls for a deft touch in playing that explores the comedic potential without obliterating character. “As broad as it is, farce is a delicate thing. The art of it is in the subtlety. If you go too far, and you don’t give the characters a chance, you’ve lost it.”
• A Bedfull of Foreigners runs Sept. 20 to 24 at Evergreen (1205 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam) at 8 p.m. with a 4 p.m. matinee on Sept. 24. Call 604-927-6555 or visit www.evergreenculturalcentre.ca.
— Alex Browne, Peace Arch News