thu 25/07/2024

The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse review – knowing Restoration update | reviews, news & interviews

The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse review – knowing Restoration update

The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse review – knowing Restoration update

Wycherley’s sexy comedy transplanted to the Roaring Twenties

Siubhan Harrison as Alithea with stuffed friend and Mabel Clements (Lucy) and Nancy Sullivan (Margery) in the backgroundDarren Bell

Even in its successful early days Wycherley’s 1675 comedy was notorious, but it was considered too lewd to be staged at all between the mid-Eighteenth Century and 1924. Although the play has found an affectionate place in the canon in more recent times, it makes a kind of sense to transpose the goings on of louche Restoration aristocrats to the era of the Bright Young Things, the time of its rediscovery.

And the theme of the role of women, their desires and frustrations, has a continuing up-to-date resonance which adaptors Morphic Graffiti (director Luke Fredericks and designer Stewart Charlesworth) enjoy and emphasise.

The text has been cut, a few minor characters dropped and many locations added. The Savoy, a gentleman’s outfitters and a health club figure as well as elegant drawing rooms and bed chambers in an acting area surrounded by audience on three sides. The result is an almost filmic sequence of scenes. But the main point of all this – and it is a hallmark of the production – is an absolute delight in scene changing. In Heather Douglas’s lively choreography, the cast speedily shift a bar, a mantelpiece, chairs, tables, a bed and stuffed birds while breaking into the Charleston to the sound of a jazzy score. This is great fun, but it happens just a little too often and spins out the running time when clearly the intention is to keep the action moving. Every indecent image is underlined: the china scene, already heavily laden with double entendres, features two phallic vases as well. And there is some loss of clarity in the rush of events as the plot finally unwinds at last.

Eddie Eyre and Joshua HillThe transposition of period flattens out class differences and removes some of the ironic contrast between what is said and what is done. These are all well-to-do middle class people rather than aristocrats and City gents. And the hypocrisy of a period when sexual “honour” was still prized but pleasure-seeking the norm among the upper classes does not transfer as well to the freer flapper generation. Periwigs, flounces and bows are ditched in favour of gym-toned bodies and sinuous satin. Fashion is here as much about undress as elaborate clothing. Some of the costumes in Charlesworth’s design are, however, gorgeous, especially the vibrant colours of the men’s jackets and the women’s dresses. The bare male flesh on show fits well with the homosocial theme, here taken a stage further in a jokey ending.

Eddie Eyre (above, left, with Joshua Hill as Dorilant), recently of Eastenders and Game of Thrones, makes Horner - the cad who puts it about that he is impotent in order to gain access to other men’s all-too-eager wives – a crafty wide boy. He gets a kind of comeuppance in this version in that Lady Fidget and Dainty Fidget tie him up and reduce him briefly to an obvious plaything, but this seems rather laboured point-making.

As Margery, the country wife herself, Nancy Sullivan is a delight – all innocent lust and wriggling pleasure in carnal discovery – even if she does sound like a city dweller. Daniel Cane gets all possible humour out of posh fop Sparkish and Sarah Lam’s Lady Fidget is a wickedly lively creature who enacts a solo orgasm worthy of Meg Ryan’s Sally in a scene that would have surprised Wycherley. Leo Staar’s conventional Harcourt is painted in less vivid colours than some of those surrounding him, but Siubhan Harrison is elegantly bright as Alithea, the object of his affections.

All in all, this version is a jolly variation on Wycherley but it does not supplant the arch rudery of the original.


Periwigs, flounces and bows are ditched in favour of gym-toned bodies and sinuous satin.


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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