After a sell-out summer season at the White Bear Theatre, The Provoked Wife transfers to the Hope Theatre in September. Director Hannah Boland Moore explains why she chose to revive this 17th-century comedy and how she’s adapted it for a young cast of eight and set it at a modern music festival.
Back in February when I was thinking about what play to do next I had a few criteria: I wanted to do a play written between the 17th and 19th centuries, I wanted a young, relatively small cast and I wanted the language to sound fresh.
I started reading about John Vanbrugh and discovered that his comedy often arises from everyday life – two young men talking about the women they fancy, a husband and wife bickering over breakfast… The comedy in his plays didn’t seem as staged as that of earlier Restoration plays; it leapt off the page when I first read The Provoked Wife in February and I knew I had found the play I wanted to do.
I also knew that I wanted to attract a young audience who may not have had the opportunity to see much Restoration comedy before. Unlike Shakespeare, whose plays are staged anywhere and everywhere, Restoration comedy has been staged mostly in large, West End or subsidised venues, in period costume, the best parts often being played by older actors.
I wanted to see if this type of play could be done with a very young cast and a modern setting as easily as can be done with Shakespeare. So I made Belinda the cousin of the Brutes, instead of their niece, making all the characters roughly the same age, and by combining several servants into one character, I cut the cast down to eight – four men and four women.
The only criteria for The Provoked Wife’s setting was that I needed to capture a sense of the idle rich. The characters spend all day drinking and have so much time on their hands that the only thing to do is meddle in each other’s love lives, so with that in mind I set it in a modern music festival. There’s lots of running on and off stage and each scene is punctuated by electro music that is emanating from the different tents on the festival grounds; it gives the whole thing energy and propels the action forward.
This young cast is fantastic. Sir John Brute, famously once played by David Garrick, is originally meant to be a man past his prime. In this production, he’s played by a 24-year-old, which brings a whole new melancholic dimension to the character. He’s young, recently married, and already disillusioned with life.
There’s a lot of melancholy throughout the play dispersed among all the comedy; Heartfree is asked by his friend why he spent the morning criticizing Lady Fanciful and he responds, ‘Why, one thing was the morning hung upon my hands. I did not know what to do with myself.’ There’s a lot in the play about boredom and filling up the long hours in a day. The fact that it’s done by young actors in this production makes it even
There’s a lot of melancholy throughout the play dispersed among all the comedy. Heartfree is asked by his friend why he spent the morning criticising Lady Fanciful and he responds: “Why, one thing was the morning hung upon my hands. I did not know what to do with myself.” There’s a lot in the play about boredom and filling up the long hours in a day. The fact that it’s done by young actors in this production makes it even sadder because these youthful characters shouldn’t be bored with life quite yet.
That being said, the play on the whole is tremendous fun. We had a great time rehearsing because we just spent the whole afternoon laughing. I never get bored with this play. Vanbrugh isn’t known for his use of language, but there are some truly beautiful passages in The Provoked Wife, especially between the would-be lovers Constant and Lady Brute.
In their one romantic scene, they are so caught up with one another that they both fall into verse. It’s one of my favourite parts, and the only example of verse in the whole play:
Constant. “If constancy and truth have power to tempt you; if love, if adoration, can affect you, give me at least some hopes, that time may do, what you, perhaps, mean never to perform: ’twill ease my sufferings, though not quench my flame.
Lady Brute. Your sufferings eased, your flame would soon abate; and that I would preserve, not quench it, sir.
Constant. Would you preserve it, nourish it with favours; for that’s the food it naturally requires.
Lady Brute. Yet on that natural food ’twould surfeit soon should I resolve to grant all you would ask.
Constant. And in refusing all, you starve it. Forgive me, therefore (since my hunger rages), if I at last grow wild; and, in my frenzy, force at least this from you. Or if you’d have my flame soar higher still, then grant me this, and this, and thousands more.”
The Provoked Wife runs at the Hope Theatre in Islington, north London from 5 to 23 September 2017, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.45pm.