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 that she directed her first.
That was Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, at the late, lamented 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 (her version appears at the Surrey Arts Centre annually).
“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 – A Bedfull of Foreigners, by Dave Freeman – at White Rock’s Coast Capital Playhouse until Aug. 28, a prelude to a regional run as 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,” said King, whose background includes years as a professional entertainer in her native Britain and across Europe.
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.
“It appears simplistic on the surface, but when you actually get into it, it’s just the opposite. Just tracking the props that are necessary, and where they should be for each scene, is a huge job. It’s all about the props.”
Farce also calls for a deft touch in playing that explores the comedic potential without obliterating character, King maintains.
“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.”
In this regard, she said, she has no complaints of her current cast, who have all done their homework on their characters, even if the goal is to create something gloriously ridiculous.
“These guys are amazing,” she said. “You give them an idea and they run with it, and embellish it and put a cherry on top. And they’re a great team – they love each other and respect each other and spark each other.”
The only challenge, she said, has been occasionally reining them in.
“There was one scene that was ‘a bridge too far’ – it was actually hysterically funny, but I felt we were losing the play.
“They’ve broken the set three times – we’ve actually had to reinforce it.”
A Bedfull of Foreigners runs Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. with 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees. For tickets, call 604-536-7535 or visit www.rctheatreco.com