The Country Wife
Reviewed – 4th April 2018
“oozing with glamour and style”
Sex and its politics have been the centre of art for centuries, which is well proven with William Wycherley’s classic Restoration play, The Country Wife. First seen in 1675, it was deemed so risqué and vulgar that it wasn’t put back on stage for centuries. Morphic Graffiti’s new adaptation of the play transports it from the 17th century into the Roaring Twenties, setting it among the carefree, party-going spirit of the Bright Young Things. This change in time works well, now oozing with glamour and style, yet, with all its dandy dressing and sumptuous sets, it hardly leaves you hot under the collar. It’s silly, sordid, fun, amalgamating into a Carry On-cum-Downton-cum-EastEnders affair.
Restoration comedies are tricky (and lengthy) ones to sit through, with their convoluted plots, long-winded dialogue, interchanging characters and moral principles that seem prehistoric to modern audiences. However, Morphic Graffiti have tried their best in making this version of The Country Wife accessible, particularly to the young. Eking out as many modern double entendres they can find, plus, using pop songs reproduced in the style of a Twenties Jazz band, does become repetitive and stale as they push the contemporary boat out as far as they possibly can.
Director Luke Fredericks succeeds in focusing on the unleashing of female desires, therefore, sidestepping over the more unpleasant misogynistic undertones to the original text. Using the sexual freedom of the flapper girls in the 1920s as the historical context, the women of this production are confident, not letting anyone stop them from getting what they want. Especially their husbands. From the sultry femme fatale Alithea (Siubhan Harrison), to the rampant Lady Fidget (Sarah Lam), and even the minx-like Margery Pinchwife (Nancy Sullivan) the ‘country wife’ of the title, they all have sexual appetites to be fed. Notorious womaniser Harry Horner (Eddie Eyre) is the one to fulfil their needs. Claiming himself to have been castrated whilst in France, it leaves husbands falsely unworried to leave their society wives alone in his company.
With a mix of deception, disguise and plenty of debauchery, this farcical tale is a whirlwind adventure, often feeling as jumpy as the cocaine trip that Horner’s sidekick Dorilant (Joshua Hill) constantly seems to be on. The mismatch of performance styles is clunky and confusing, with some actors taking a more classical approach, such as Richard Clews as the cuckolded Mr Pinchwife, whilst Eyre as Harry Horner could be a Jack the lad member of TOWIE. Nevertheless, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments in this production, and the cast certainly bring an explosive energy, with their wonderfully choreographed musical scene changes being a particular highlight.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Darren Bell
The Country Wife
Southwark Playhouse until 21st April