The Provoked Wife
The Hope Theatre
Reviewed – 7th September 2017
“sparkles with fun and mischief from start to finish”
What a lovely romp! This contemporary take on Restoration comedy sparkles with fun and mischief from start to finish. Hannah Boland Moore’s direction is spot on, weaving a world for the characters to inhabit with minimal set and props, and creating moments of true comic genius.
The play is perfectly cast, and there is not a weak link in the talented and energetic company, who are clearly having a lot of fun with this story of love, betrayal and scandal. They are so at home with the seventeenth century language that it is as natural as our everyday speech and doesn’t jar at all with the contemporary setting.
The play opens at a music festival, setting the scene for revelry and seduction. Will Kelly’s Sir John Brute has already had enough of marriage after only two years and he lets his poor wife know all about it. Kelly’s performance is assured and convincing, we wonder from very early in the play how his poor wife can bear him. Meg Coombs brings a mix of vulnerability and determination to her Lady Brute, her marriage is a mess and she is tempted by the attentions of Constant, a sweet young man who is in love with her.
Will she or won’t she? Will Hearle’s Constant is adorably tongue-tied when he sees the object of his affections, torn between honorable behaviour and the desire for his love. Into this mix enters Lady Fanciful, played with a wonderful vivacity and plentiful hair flicking by Jessie Lilly. She loves to stir up trouble and thinks herself the most beautiful woman in town. She is supported in this fancy by her french maid, Mademoiselle, Sophie Alexander, who fizzes with catty sycophancy. Constant’s friend, Heartfree, tries to school Lady Fanciful and swears he will never fall in love, but will he? It is Tim Gibson’s Heartfree who most embodies the glorious sense of mischief at the heart of the play. His eyes sparkle as he plots, and his energy and joie-de-vivre are infectious.
Conor Cook has the tricky task of being largely in the background for most of the action. When his character Lovewell steps out of the shadows he does a great job of unleashing chaos and trying to sort out the tangled web he has helped to weave. Lady Brute’s niece Belinda is a forthright young woman, played with cheeky effervescence by Claudia Campbell, and in her we, perhaps, see a critique of the way in which women were supposed to behave in late seventeenth century England, and sometimes still are, even today. She speaks her mind and is never punished for it. Quite the opposite in fact.
When Vanbrugh was writing this play women were still a novelty on stage and his female characters in this play show a desire to escape from the strictures of their proscribed roles. Lady Brute and Belinda are a delightful pair, and were first played by two of the first, highly celebrated actresses, Elizabeth Barry and Anne Bracegirdle.
I like to think that that indomitable pair would approve of this version of The Provoked Wife, with it’s faithfulness to the text and spirit of the original and it’s glorious contemporary relevance and fun.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Toby Lee
THE PROVOKED WIFE
is at The Hope Theatre until 23rd September