THE COUNTRY WIFE
by William Wycherley.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 20 October 2012.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 3.30pm.
Audio-described 13 Oct 3.30pm.
BSL Signed 16 Oct.
Captioned 11 Oct.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 September 2012.
Energetic revival that casts doubt on unprincipled pleasure.
Like other productions of plays from the 17th and early 18th century on around now (Liverpool’s The Alchemist and Southwark Playhouse’s The Busy Body) Polly Findlay’s revival of William Wycherley’s well-known Restoration takes a free hand, cutting and, in this case, relocating to a society somewhere between then, now and nowhere.
There are elements of 17th-century costume, some fantasticated wigs and an overall sense of corruption and decay – a greyness that suggests yesterday’s sexual fun and games on the way to becoming tomorrow’s ash-can detritus.
All the fun’s at the expense of the man next door; Horner’s put it about that venereal disease has done for his bedroom activities. The men trust him, their wives hate him – till they discover the truth. Female sexuality is both mocked and celebrated in a play from the early days of women actors.
Meanwhile, the most elaborately-coiffed creature, Oliver Gomm’s piping, excitable Sparkish, is so insistent on being one of the club he’ll throw any man at his intended wife. It’s her luck that Alithea finds in Harcourt someone more sensible than this idiot to love her.
In this revival, Gomm’s is such a bravura performance it would hardly matter who he was allied with. And among the women it’s the title character, Margery Pinchwife, who stands out.
In Amy Morgan’s performance, the country is Wales, and her simplicity finds its own way to handle London sophistication. Perhaps it’s the real Welsh sound as opposed to so many mummerset-ish rural ones in other productions, but the simple openness with which she contrives to convey a letter to Horner has the delightful innocence of trickery without guile.
There are well-characterised performances too from Felix Scott, whose Horner is amoral, pursuing women indiscriminately and with more signs of purposeful pursuit than actual pleasure, and Nick Fletcher, whose Pinchwife is tormented by paroxysms of jealousy, bringing about the very assignation he fears.
Above the stage (apparently got-up like a birdcage, a rather contrived idea) hangs a set of horns, the cuckold’s symbol. They’re dry, hard and sharp at the ends. Like life, which is possibly the point.
Mr Horner: Felix Scott.
Quack: James Russell.
Sir Jasper Fidget: Roger Morlidge.
Lady Fidget: Maggie Service.
Mrs Dainty Fidget: Jessica Knappett.
Mr Harcourt: Nicholas Bishop.
Mr Dorilant: Tommy Vine.
Mr Sparkish: Oliver Gomm.
Mr Pinchwife: Nick Fletcher.
Mrs Margery Pinchwife: Amy Morgan.
Alithea: Eliza Collings.
Mrs Squeamish: Lizzie Winkler.
Lucy: Susan Wokoma.
Old Lady Squeamish: Janet Whiteside.
Director: Polly Findlay.
Designer: Helen Goddard.
Lighting: Chris Davey.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Movement: Ann Yee.
Assistant director: Holly Race Roughan.