Danny Coleman-Cooke reviews The Country Wife by William Wycherley now on stage at the Southwark Playhouse in a new production by Morphic Graphiti.
The Country Wife
4 April 2018
It is always intriguing going to Southwark Playhouse, a venue that has a strong track record of putting on older or lesser-known shows that have been neglected by history or by critical acclaim.
After the successful recent run of The Cardinal, it is a joy to see another 17th century play on stage, especially one that was considered too bawdy to stage in England for over two centuries.
The Country Wife has three interlinking plots. Lothario Harry Horner starts a rumour that he’s a eunuch so he is entrusted by husbands to spend time with their wives, who he then aims to seduce.
Secondly, middle-aged Pinchwife opts for a naive country girl as his wife, hoping she will not leave him, however she soon adopts the ways of the city and starts to look further afield.
And finally Pinchwife’s sister Alithea, becomes caught in a love triangle between a shallow fop and a witty English gentleman.
In 2018, it all seems rather Carry On, and yet with its innuendo and partner swapping, it is easy to see how this caused a stir in previous generations.
The decision to set this in the 1920s seems a canny one, with the sexual liberation and social freedoms of the ‘Bright Young Things’ providing a fitting backdrop. It also allows for some magnificent costumes from Stuart Charlesworth and some jazzy musical interludes during scene changes.
Although there are undoubtedly too many of these scene changes, some inspired choreography from Heather Douglas makes them as enjoyable as they can be possibly be.
This abridged version of the text provides plenty of laughs, supported by some fine acting throughout. Nancy Sullivan, in particular, provides superb comedy as Margery the titular country wife, whose innocent lust for a new life and a new husband is both touching and hilarious.
Likewise, Daniel Cane’s delivery and mannerisms as the foppish and idiotic Sparkish are a perfect satire of English gentlemanly bluster.
Eddie Eyre is also compelling as Horner, although is perhaps too good looking for the role (tough criticism I know..). Despite Eyre’s considerable acting talents, it is hard to see why his Horner would be have to resort to that particular ruse to get female attention.
All things considered, The Country Wife is an enjoyable, if unsubtle, evening of comedy. It is a play well worth reviving and it further cements the reputation of the Playhouse as a stellar producer of varied and interesting plays.
Until 21 April 2018