Monkey's Uncle

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

27/09/2006 - 07/09/2006

Production Details

By David Lewis
Directed by Rodney Bane


Backyard Productions is excited to have secured the rights to present the New Zealand Premiere of David Lewis’ latest comedy, Monkey’s Uncle, which had its world premiere last year in the UK. Monkey’s Uncle play’s with the idea that the life of the famous French farceur Georges Feydeau was so farcical in its own right that it would make a brilliant basis for, well … a farce.

Monkey’s Uncle examines the mayhem caused when our animal instincts come into conflict with our civilised veneers. It is a post-modern homage to Feydeau, the master of multiple exits and entrances, mistaken identities and fumbled encounters in hotel rooms. Feydeau struggles to write a new play whilst grappling with the increasingly complex goings-on between his wife, mistress, friends and servants. Love notes fall into the wrong hands, intentions are misinterpreted and events spiral rapidly towards a disastrous liaison at the Hotel Terminus.

Troubled marriages, rampant affairs, professional jealousy and an organ grinder’s monkey are just some of the ingredients of this very clever play from the author of ‘Misconceptions’ – critically acclaimed NZ Premier also presented by Backyard Productions in 2005.

Director Rodney Bane has gathered an experienced cast to present this frenetically funny play. Joel Allen plays the writer Feydeau. Nicola Pauling, is his harassed and put-upon wife Marianne. Mark Harris takes the role of Dr Didier, friend and confidant, while Meredith Dooley plays the love interest of both men, and the wife of the bumbling Inspector Habillot, played by Alex Ness. Rounding off the ensemble are Andrew Waterson, as the up-and-coming writer Louis Lavasseur and Carol Reed who plays the “maid” Yvette.

Like all farces, Monkey’s Uncle has its fair share of lost clothes, mistaken identities and a great many entrances and exits.

Georges Feydeau: Joel Allen
Yvette: Carol Reed
Cecile Habillot : Meredith Dooley
Marianne Feydeau : Nicola Pauling
Benoit Didier: Mark Harris
Alphonse Halibot: Alex Ness
Louis Levasseur : Andrew Waterson

Director / Designer : Rodney Bane
Produced by: Rodney Bane & David Austin
Production Assistant: Pam Alderton
Stage Manager / Foley: Michael Craven
Lighting Design: Michael Craven
Lighting Operator: Leslie Craven
Sound Design / Operation: Leslie Craven
Props Co-ordinator: Cilla Abbot
Props : Pam Alderton
Wardrobe: Annabel Hensley & Jane Craven
Set: Stephen Fearnley, Mark Harris, Director & Cast / Crew
Graphic Design: Rodney Bane

- Rod's Design Services
Poster Photography: Matthew Hodgman

Theatre ,

2hrs 10 mins, incl. interval

Farce Imitates Life

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Oct 2006

There are probably few plays around that have actors undressing and dressing on stage as much as they do in David Lewis’s Monkey’s Uncle, currently getting its NZ premiere by Backyard Productions at the Gryphon Theatre.  But then it’s a French farce, and not only that, but about one of the greatest exponents of the genre, Georges Feydeau. 

Masters and servants, mistresses and wives, friends and foe all rushing through doors, hiding in cupboards and under tables vying for each others sexual favours through complicated plots and ludicrous situations is the essence of farce. This apparently was also much of what Feydeau’s actual life was like.  So using the writer himself, and his wife Marianne, as the central characters, Lewis has contrived a very clever play, almost too much at times, that not only satirises Feydeau’s style of writing but also shows that through these situations it doesn’t take much to release our basic animal instincts.

He does this by setting the first two acts as traditional French farce in Paris of the late 1880’s, the first in Feydeau’s home, the second in a hotel bedroom.  Then in the third act the play leaps forward to today where the farcical situations continue in the home of playwright George and his wife Anne. 

To bring all this to life on stage requires style and energy which director Rodney Bane and his strong, hard working cast have in abundance.  In costumes stylishly put together by Annabel Hensley and Jane Craven, the actors move about the simple set with efficiency and speed, aided by the Foley artist/ stage Manager, Michael Craven, sitting on stage providing all the sound effects of doors opening and closing. 

In the lead roles of Georges and Marianne, Joel Allen and Nicola Pauling are excellent, providing the right amount of nervous angst and bewilderment as they try and keep their lovers in toe while trying to keep their marriage intact. Meredith Dooley as Feydeau’s mistress Cecile is wonderfully innocent of the mayhem she causes and Mark Harris as Benoit is all bumbling confusion not knowing what women he should be chasing. 

Trying to bring some seriousness to the chaos is the earnest young writer Levasseur, played by Andrew Waterson, but who is also not averse to losing his trousers making the ludicrousness of his situation even funnier.  Adding strong support to these characters is Carol Reed the flirtatious maid Yvette and Alex Ness the put upon husband Habillot. 

A complicated but at times very funny play that has many thought provoking layers beneath the humour and one that is well worth seeing.


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Seriously funny deconstruction

Review by John Smythe 30th Sep 2006

Nurtured over the last decade by the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, England – which also premiered Martin Crimp’s first six plays – David Lewis has yet to be discovered by our mainstream theatres. Having produced the NZ premiere of his Misconceptions last year, Backyard Productions – a professional co-op that stages its work at the Gryphon – now follows through with his latest play, Monkey’s Uncle.

In the first instance it’s a well crafted parody of a French farce in which the pre-eminent French farceur himself, Georges Feydeau (Joel Allen) is trying to crack the final act of a new play while keeping Cecile (Meredith Dooley), his cabaret singer/ wannabe actress mistress, a secret from Marianne (Nicola Pauling), his harridan wife, who is trying to cope with their son’s constipation in another room.

Meanwhile his wimpish doctor friend, Benoit Didier (Mark Harris), is in hopeless love with Cecile, whose husband Alphonse Halibot (Alex Ness) is a puffed-up police inspector with a novelty act involving farm animal sounds, which arouses Yvette (Carol Reed), the maid, who of course knows everything and pops the key to it all – to Georges’ room at the portentously named Hotel Terminus, in fact – in her apron pocket.

Then there is aspiring young serious playwright Louis Levasseur (Andrew Waterson), whose passion for meaningful theatre arouses the neglected Marianne. And it becomes increasing obvious that Feydeau is stealing Levasseur’s ideas while rejecting him as a collaborator. With a master-carver father reduced to mass-producing table legs, and an organ grinder brother who holds his trouser-stealing monkey in higher regard than his own family, it’s Louis who is the titular Monkey’s Uncle.  

Thus the farce plays out for the first two acts, in home and hotel, with all the attendant diversions, cover-ups and duckings in and out of various doors – physically absent from the set made present through foley sound effects operated in full view of the audience by stage manager Michael Craven.

As with all well-made plays, the third act – back at home in the Feydeau tradition – pays off all the set ups that precede it in surprising ways. Suddenly George is muting Ravel with a remote control. He’s a 21st century TV sitcom writer trying to complete a farce for the stage while his intensely jealous wife, Anne, prepares to leave him. Levasseur has metamorphosed into serious playwright David … And it turns out that what we have seen before is the script stolen back from the man who stole his ideas.

As directed by Rodney Bane – and taking their cue from a Feydeau line (in act two, I think) about farce only being funny when it’s played dead seriously – the actors play out David Lewis’s ingenious deconstruction, of farce in particular and theatre in general, ‘for real’. And it’s salutary to note that the biggest laughs come in the final act, where all pretensions to farce have dissolved and the classic sight gags play out in the context of deeply-felt domestic drama.

While I accept this is a ‘no budget’ production, the set of wall-papered panels, black drapes and white doorways is unnecessarily shoddy. But the strong cast makes up for it a well-focused and astutely paced production that deserves bigger audiences than was there last night (a Friday).


Mark Harris September 30th, 2006

Thanks, John. That's a pretty fair review. I'd like to point out that the monkey in question is, in fact, owned by Louis' father and it is the monkey's child which makes Louis the Monkey's Uncle of the title. But I'm glad you enjoyed it - it's a lot of fun to do. Cheers Mark

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