Review: THE COUNTRY WIFE, Southwark Playhouse

By: Apr. 05, 2018
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Review: THE COUNTRY WIFE, Southwark Playhouse

Review: THE COUNTRY WIFE, Southwark Playhouse Director Luke Fredericks gives a new spin to William Wycherley's salacious comedy The Country Wife, taking it from its original Restoration setting to the crackling Roaring 20s. Sprinkled with anachronistic nudges, shirtless scenes, and a luxurious set and costume design by Stewart Charlesworth, the show has plenty of different kinds of eye-candy.

Thanks to his friends Doriland (Joshua Hill) and Frank Harcourt (Leo Staar), philanderer Harry Horner (Eddie Eyre) is now well-known among socialites for being impotent. This cunning plan makes him unthreatening to jealous husbands while giving him full access to their wives. Young Margery Pinchwife (Nancy Sullivan) has accompanied her much older husband to London and, while he's busy with business, she's decided to savour everything that the city has to offer.

The 1675 plot makes a lot of sense against this new 20s background: the outrageous behaviour of the Bright Young Things and the sexual revolution are perfectly in line with Wycherley's lascivious characters. Fredricks updates the text with a few liberties of setting (including some post-shower-towel-only-locker-room banter, which only adds to the production's pleasant visuals thanks to the actors' washboard abs) and brings an interesting pace to the piece.

The misogyny and machismo of Restoration comedy is still very much present but it's presented differently: the female characters in the play are definitely in power of their sexuality and know what they want, but their freedom and emancipation is merely a fiction. Fredericks sugar-coats sexism by showing that women are on top but at the same time leaves in lines like "Write as I bid you, or I will write 'whore' on your face". However, it works somehow even though it doesn't excuse it, and the cast drags out guilty belly-laughs from the audience.

Top notch comedy and rambunctious farce come head to head at times, but they're stitched together by brilliantly executed musical scene changes. Movement Director Heather Douglas devises lively and highly enjoyable interludes where the actors reorganise the set on the notes of jazz arrangements of modern pop songs by Sound Designer Neil Rigg.

Eyre and Hill bring a whole other level of swagger to the scene and the buff and confident hunks are balanced out by the camp fop Sparkish, played Daniel Cane. The latter is a joy to watch as the lanky and energetic character. It's the actresses, however, who raise the bar. Sullivan displays just the right amount of frivolity and naivety as the title wife, but her performance is undeniably shadowed by Siobhan Harrison's.

Harrison is sublime as Alithea, gliding across the stage in exquisite robes, often pouring champagne. She is glamorous and elegant in her delivery, adding subtlety and depth to the production. Mable Clements is truly impressive as she turns her act upside down doubling as Dainty Fidget and Lucy.

All in all The Country Wife certainly is a good laugh, but it hides all the issues of male-orientated comedy under a glitzy and hedonistic cover. Smoke and mirrors work well for Fredricks's adaptation, and he manages to keep the energy up in an otherwise lenghty piece of theatre.

The Country Wife runs at Southwark Playhouse until 21 April.

Photo credit: Darren Bell


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