THEATRE / Welcome to the great outdoors: A Flea in Her Ear / Mold; The Winter's Tale / Lancaster

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The Independent Culture
SWELTER or shiver: the British summer theatre season is here again. At Theatr Clwyd last week, it was exhausting just to watch others hurtle around in the heat for three hours. Outdoors at Williamson Park in Lancaster, meanwhile, you were glad to restore the circulation between scenes, in what was not so much a promenade as a brisk-walk production. The actors, of course, rose to it all. Georges Feydeau's farce offered at least the welcome draughts of opening and shutting doors, while the Lancaster company had enough old hands to know that if the applause sounded muted it was because most of us were wearing two pairs of gloves.

In truth, A Flea in Her Ear does not warm up until the second act. Feydeau spends the first part painstakingly setting up the situation in which Raymonde Chandebise, convinced that her newly indifferent husband is deceiving her, conspires to trap him in an hotel. Chaos takes some organising, and one has to admire the meticulousness of Feydeau's plotting and the precision of Mike Alfreds' staging in this middle act. The moment when Simon Roberts' Camille suffers the misdirected blow that propels his artificial palate beyond his diving reach is priceless. Roberts, a bendy man filled with anguished frustration, is superb throughout. Other performances are strong, notably Susie Blake, a freshet of indignation as Raymonde, Colin McCormack, painfully mistaken for both her husband and his double, and Raad Rawi as the husband with the vengeful revolver. But the final act suffers from Feydeau's determination to extend the jokes.

Graham Anderson's new translation has many neat one-liners, though 'The Cuddly Kitten' sounds a long way from the hotel's louche milieu. A co-production with the West Yorkshire Playhouse, A Flea in Her Ear runs well into August. Paul Dart's handsome and substantial sets look like they can take the battering.

No such anxieties for the Dukes' The Winter's Tale. The trees and the columns and steps of the Ashton Memorial form the most solid of backdrops. There's also a real lamb for the Bohemian shepherds, but only a make-believe bear for Antigonus to exit pursued by.

Jon Pope's production, dressed by Liz Ascroft, uses the memorial's cool limestone expanses to represent the frigidity of Leontes' court. James Duke's Leontes, in white tie and tails, is an icy needle of repression flushed with jealousy. His is a vivid, strongly voiced performance, though the way it wavers towards pantomime villainy on occasion is indicative of an uncertainty of tone in the production as a whole. The scene in which Cleomenes and Dion bring Apollo's oracle in a radioactive canister is funny, but does it serve any purpose other than to inject a little summery levity? Some of the most serious moments are in fact best: the aristrocratic viciousness of Polixenes (Christopher Wright), and Perdita's (Suneeta Rathore) denunciation of it. But the acting is uneven and, with the company's numerical resources evidently stretched, distinctly weak in places. As always, however, the Park season is a warmly sociable occasion, even when it offers a tale told for winter.

'A Flea in Her Ear' is at Theatr Clwyd Mold to 3 July (0352 755114), then from 15 July at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0532 442111)

'The Winter's Tale' is at Williamson Park, Lancaster to 3 July (0524 66645)