The Country Wife
Southwark Playhouse Spring 2018
A bawdy Restoration comedy is re-set in the 1920s, with the thrill-hungry Beautiful Young Things of the later era replacing the debauchers and the eagerly debauched of the Seventeenth Century.
William Wycherley's play is strong enough and silly enough to handle the changes. The updating may not add a whole lot to the comedy's entertainment value, but it doesn't get in the way either.
This is the one about the rake who spreads the rumour that he is impotent so that husbands will be happy to give him free access to their wives, who are in turn happy to get first hand evidence that the rumour is false.
(Don't groan – that is the level of much of the play's humour, which director Luke Fredericks encourages by, for example, underlining every appearance, however innocent, of the word 'come'.)
The faux-eunuch's main quarry is the title girl, an innocent provincial bride thrilled to discover the prospects of big-city sin, and there's another couple, the obligatory fop, a pair of suspicious husbands and some randomly randy women.
If actor Eddie Eyre never really gets a handle on the main character and tends too often to fade into the ensemble, Nancy Sullivan delightfully captures the title character's kid-in-a-candy-shop joy at the prospect of being debauched.
Daniel Cane is fun as the fop so blindly self-confident that he doesn't notice he's being insulted, Richard Clews finds all the comedy in the play's designated cuckold, and Siubhan Harrison adeptly anchors the play in some emotional reality as the one sensible and moral woman in all of London.
The major contribution of the production's time shift lies, of all places, in the scene changes, which are tightly choreographed high energy sequences (movement director Heather Douglas) in which the cast Charleston the props in and out to witty 1920's-style arrangements of 21st-century pop songs.
In a play that just occasionally gets a little too static and talky – trimming 20 minutes or so could only help – these frequent injections of dance keep the energy level high.
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Review - The Country Wife - Southwark Playhouse 2018