Southwark Playhouse, London – until 21 April 2018
Set in 1920s London, a time when scandal, drugs and debauchery were rife, The Country Wife tells the story of Harry Horner who poses as a eunuch in order to sleep with men’s wives without suspicion.
He meets Margery the, innocent, young country wife of Pinchwife, when she visits London. Pinchwife, desperate to keep her chained to him, soon loses her to the fun of the bright young things society as her eyes are opened to the ways of the town people and she begins a search to find what makes her happy instead of her loveless marriage.
Alithea, Pinchwife’s sister, is due to marry Sparkish (for social and financial convenience), but when she meets Frank Harcourt who pursues her and offers her the possibility of a happy relationship we see her struggle against what is ‘right’ and what she wants.
At the time of its first productions, Wycherley’s 1675 comedy was notorious and although it’s not as shocking and ‘socially-unacceptable’ to watch a play about sexual misconduct now, it’s amazing how resonant the themes are. With desires, the role of women and more being cleverly brought to life by Morphic Graffiti (designer Stewart Charlesworth and director Luke Fredericks).
Events take place in a number of different locations such as the bedrooms, the Savoy and elegant drawing rooms. The transitions between these are outstanding. Sharp 20s Charleston steps are accompanied by postmodern jukebox-esque renditions of songs as the characters smoothly move the set pieces and props into place. This is a delightful and seamless way to transition as well as to show some of the raucous parties that aren’t shown in the actual show itself and also helps keep the action moving.
Something great about this production is that misogyny is avoided by having the women be very self aware of themselves- they know their worth and are willing to do what they want to have somewhat fulfilled lives. In fact, the women are the people who drive the show.
Whilst the play is roaringly funny for the most part, there are times when the switch from humour to seriousness feel too sudden and scenes happen at lightning speed so it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on.
The cast are very strong, with Siubhan Harrison as the subtle but biting Alithea, Nancy Sullivan as the hilarious, lively Margery and Joshua Hill as the drugged up wingman are stand-outs. The Country Wife is a little long and felt arduous to watch at times but the conversation between the 1920s and modernity and the clever use of humour and staging make it a fun night out at the theatre.