Writer: Willian Wycherley
Director: Polly Findlay
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
The Public Reviews Rating:
The Country Wife is a bawdy, enjoyable, lewd, fabulous, farcical evening at the Royal Exchange, where the in-the-round structure serves to include the audience in the action and whip us up in langauge, intrigue and excitement of Wycherley’s play.
The Country Wife is a play with several plots however, the central ones are that of a rakish gent “Horner” who spreads the rumour around town that he is a eunuch in order to lull husbands into a false sense of security and allow him to debauch all of their wives, coupled with the storyline of Mr Pinchwife bringing his innocent country-born wife into London where she discovers the joys of town-life, the attractions of other men and wishes to break free of her confining marriage.
Wycherley’s text is dense and ridden with innuendo, double-entendre’s and contextual references, which in some hands could make it a cumbersome play to watch, however Polly Findlay’s expert direction brings a lightness and joyfulness to this production (coupled with the well-made cuts to the script which reduces unnecessary repetition). The actors do a superb job of keeping the energy of the text and therefore the power of the humour, and the wit of the wordplay flowing between characters, and the audience. The structure of the Royal Exchange lends itself easily to the aside, which in this production flows alongside speech and breaks down any notion of treating us differently to the other characters. The audience became a character within this production, for example Marjory sat amongst the audience as she described her torn feelings between love for her gallant and distaste for her husband
The design (Helen Goddard) of this play undoubtedly contributed to the success of its performance. The costume of Horner was fabulous; Horner’s tight corseted waist and baggy breeches created a satyr silhouette and also a hint of a retro-Russell Brand, the dangerous mix of sensuality and femininity in a masculine sheath. The wigs seemed to provide a wonderful way of delineating, for the audience, the difference between private and public persona, particularly at the end when Horner is hounded at his home and caught de-wigged and his ‘reputation’ is almost destroyed.
In such a textually-rich play it was wonderful that this production allowed us moments of release with visual gags; phallic-shaped pottery, frilly garters, animal costumes, sexual gesture and innuendo. Equally, I was pleased that they showed a darker side to the play’s themes; Mr Pinchwife’s violent turn upon his wife, threatening to cut out her eyes out of jealousy at those who look upon her lustfully, was played with true intent and seriousness which balanced the production. Nick Fletcher as Pinchwife ran the range of his character from a witless wonder, a figure of ridicule to jealousy-ridden creator of his own wife’s downfall. Furthermore, Felix Scott’s performance as Horner held the play together and demonstrated a real ease and comfort with the verse and wit which felt as easy and free as everyday ‘banter’.
Farce is experiencing a renaissance in this recession as we all seek a reason to laugh, I urge you to forget any preconceptions you have about Restoration comedies and go and enjoy this evening of cross-wired wits and pretensions of Honour.
Photo: Jonathan Keenan
Runs until 20th October
The Country Wife – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester,