THE CONSTANT WIFE
by W Somerset Maugham.
Salisbury Playhouse Salthouse Lane SP2 7RA To 5 March 2011.
Mon-Wed 7.30pm Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Thu and Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described performances Thursday 3 March 2.30pm & 8pm
BSL Signed 2 March.
Post-Show Discussion 1 March.
Theatre Day 17 February.
TICKETS: 01722 320333.
Review: Mark Courtice.
It’s the passion rather than the sexual politics that makes this comedy work
Somerset Maugham’s 1920s comedy, a debate about early 20th Century marriage, seems an odd choice for a regional theatre some 90 years on. A wife’s complete financial reliance on her husband and the argument that "a wife with competent servants can run a house in 10 minutes a day" chime with relatively few today. As the urgency of the debate has cooled, what remains is a martial farce, but this production has found the passion in the central relationships, as well as the fun.
The mixture of polemic and one-liners could tempt the unwary into that odd "20s" acting style, which consists of standing in a line like a window display for historic frocks, propelling bon mots like bullets. Here, director Philip Wilson understands that timing is everything, and he has wit, so the jokes hit the sweet-spot, greeted with a satisfying roar of laughter. His confident handling of character means we genuinely care about Constance and the two men in her life.
Susie Trayling brings 20s cheekbones and actorly skill to Constance. She’s intelligent and often very funny, especially in the climactic scene when husband John (David Michaels – queasily charming) is exposed as perfidious. Her firecracker performance is well-matched by one of considerable subtlety from Simon Thorp as the thoroughly decent old flame who gets more than he bargained for.
Maggie Steed as her mother is splendid. Her certainties are under threat, her children wayward and immoral, but she can’t see why things can’t go on as they have done for years. Steed makes her more complicated than just old and reactionary; sometimes she vibrates with repressed anxiety, at others almost hops with mischief. She also has some great one-liners, delivered with whip crack timing.
Constance achieves independence as an interior decorator, and Colin Falconer’s set is an advertisement for her skills. Browns and creams provide an oh-so-stylish background for stunning jazzy costumes, while the curtains and carpets are patterned with horizontal and vertical lines. Typically of this production there’s a psychological truth subtly delivered – Constance isn’t just fashionable; in this house she’s behind bars.
Mrs. Culver Maggie Steed.
Bentley James Clarkson.
Martha Culver Sophie Roberts.
Barbara Fawcett Claudia Elmhirst.
Constance Middleton Susie Trayling.
Marie-Louise Durham Saskia Butler.
John Middleton, FRCS David Michaels.
Bernard Kersal Simon Thorp.
Mortimer Durham Dyfrig Morris.
Director: Philip Wilson.
Designer: Colin Falconer.
Lighting; Chris Davey.
Sound/Music: Richard Hammarton.
Assistant Director Katy Rudd.