Bedroom Farce: When Is A Farce Not A Farce? (2000)

This article briefly explores what a farce is and why Bedroom Farce is not actually a farce.

When originally performed in London, some critics took exception to the fact Bedroom Farce was not actually a farce - a fact Alan has never disputed. So what is farce and why isn’t Bedroom Farce one of them? And, ultimately, does it matter?

What is a farce?
Traditionally a farce is a play with broad humour, numerous complications and a generally improbable plot. The term farce derives from the Latin word farcire (meaning ‘to stuff’) and early farces can be traced back to early Greek and Roman theatre. Farce was also a common element in medieval plays dating back to at least the 13th century and also the commedia dell’arte.
Farce as a distinct genre in itself can be dated back to the 16th century; however it did not reach its prime until the 18th and 19th century when short farces would often be presented as light relief after a tragedy. Among the most notable writers of farce during this period are Feydeau and Pinero.
What a contemporary audience most obviously recognises as farce though is a 20th century creation and is often termed the ‘bedroom farce’ (see below). Although Alan Ayckbourn was labelled a farceur early in his career, he has actually only written two recognisable farces,
How The Other Half Loves and Taking Steps. His early plays contain farcical elements, but otherwise do not fit into such obvious and easy categorisation.

The ‘bedroom farce’
Just to confuse matters, there is also a genre of writing known as the ‘bedroom farce’. This is typically a British tradition most associated with the ‘Whitehall Farces’ (written during the 1950s and ‘60s), featuring Brian Rix, and to a certain extent the ‘Aldwych Farces’ written by Ben Travers during the 1920s and 1930s. ‘Bedroom farce’ tends to involve broad comedy, often with mistaken identities, loss of clothing, double entendres and innuendo.

Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce
Which leads to Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce, which is not a true farce in theatrical terms. It could be considered a farce in the non-theatrical sense of the word in that nothing goes to plan and little of the activities most associated with bedrooms (sleep and sex) take place in the plays’ bedrooms. There are farcical elements (Kate’s loss of clothes, Nick’s attempts to build the drawers), but this is not a broad, innuendo-driven play with characters caught in flagrante at inopportune moments.
Does all this matter? Not really. Alan Ayckbourn found a title he liked and applied it to the play. That the play was not a pure farce seems only to have irritated several critics who should have known better. One suspects Alan even knew some people would pick this up as in an early interview, he announced the title as
Bedroom Farce: A Comedy, just to show he was aware of the mischief he was creating. Alan’s plays have always defied easy categorisation and are most commonly associated with tragi-comedy. But if justification is needed, who better to state his case than Alan Ayckbourn….

“Comedy, I read somewhere, consists of larger than life characters in real situations. Farce, on the other hand, portrays real characters projected into incredible situations. Bedroom Farce is a comedy about real characters who, projected into incredible situations, start behaving in a larger than life manner as the situations appear to them too horribly real. I’m with Chekhov on this, as a matter of fact. He called his plays comedies or farces whenever he felt like it, probably to confuse Stanislavsky.”

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.