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Tempering Feydeau: Twisting and Guilty Pleasures on the London Stage (1893-1897)





Beginning in 1892, Feydeau established himself in France as the new master of vaudeville comedy. London theatres surrendered to his infectious laughter, producing a number of his plays between 1892 and 1897, though admittedly, carefully selected: The Sportsman, adapted from Monsieur chasse! , The Other Man from Champignol malgré lui, His Little Dodge (Le Système Ribadier), A Night Out (L’Hôtel du Libre-Échange) and A Night Session (Séance de nuit). By reviewing the manuscripts submitted to the Office of the Lord Chamberlain, our article proposes to examine the approaches that made it possible for London directors and producers to edit light comedies which, with the name Feydeau, boasted of their French origin and frivolous nature, even when this choice carried inevitable risks. How could they avoid offending a Lord Chamberlain, hostile to any signs of immorality, with these plays, which were often based on subversive and ribald comedy? In each case, the manuscripts submitted for his censorship, in the proposed texts, reveal a prior self-censorship, evident both in the choices of the plays presented, and in the contortions of the adapters and translators: transpositions of situations, cuts and line changes all aimed at smoothing over or toning down the comedic effects relating to sexuality, as well as to social divisions. Even the most faithful translations brought about a shift in the starting situation, profoundly changing Feydeau’s reflections on intimate relationships and social ties. But why edit these plays, and deliberately run into such obstacles? Perhaps the dramatic and rhythmic inventiveness of Feydeau’s plays was an irresistible attraction to both performers and the public, as the study of their reception reveals. Even when adapters were often compelled to reduce Feydeau’s text, they also easily found the means to introduce clownish acts that were likely to please British audiences.

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