The Country Wife Is A Lovely, Lively Twenties Farce

The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse ★★★☆☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 6 months ago

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The Country Wife Is A Lovely, Lively Twenties Farce The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse 3
Photo: Darren Bell

In 1675, William Wycherley’s The Country Wife boldly satirised marriage in the style of Molière where all men are philanderers but women are expected to be faithful.

The plot’s fun: you’re the randiest git in London and spread the rumour you’re impotent to encourage husbands to trust their wives in your company: in turn the wives queue up to ride you to exhaustion but still return to the husbands who control the purse-strings.

Luke Frederick’s production for Morphic Graffiti shifts the time to the Roaring Twenties when, emboldened by Marie Stopes’ freshly-published advice, women made more of their sexual opportunities. He dresses — or undresses — it with buff bodies, lush costumes, superb jazz-danced scene changes to ragtime versions of contemporary pop, and a gorgeous but busy lighting plot by rising spark Sam Waddington.

Photo: Darren Bell

Cutting and pasting the wordy script and pointing every third laugh line with a lighting change may not have shortened The Country Wife by much, but it does shift the focus and new highlights include Daniel Cane, riotous as the witless fop Sparkish, and a When Harry Met Sally solo moment for Sarah Lam as Lady Fidget which brings act one to an undeniable climax.

This makes for a lovely, lively twenties farce, delivered with style and class, but robs the original of some of its shocking impact.  If the production has a feminist point to make, here is where it is lost.

The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway, SE1, until 11 April 2018.

Last Updated 06 April 2018