Morphic Grafitti’s new production of William Wycherley’s 1675 raunchy restoration comedy, the Country Wife is re-imagined in the 1920’s Gatsbyesque Jazz age of playboys and flappers. It has cocaine, champagne and lots of sexually charged innuendo throughout.
Between 1753 and 1924, The Country Wife was considered too controversial and sexually explicit to be performed or even published. The opening setting in this version sees two museum mannequins wearing clothes of Restoration period. Behind the screen, the sound of a couple having sex giving us the tone of the play from the outset.
Then to a Chippingham tennis club where we are introduced to notorious womaniser Horner (Eddie Eyre known for Eastenders, Hollyoaks), where he is informed by Dr. Quack that he has been sold to all the “orange-wenches at the playhouses, the city husbands, and old fumbling keepers” as a eunuch. Horner’s plan is to convince them he is impotent so that he can sleep with the wives and daughters.
Luke Fredericks retains the misogynistic text of the original script but meets it with the newly emancipated women of the 1920’s.
Here Richard Clew’s portrayal of the jealous paranoid husband Pinchwiife is less fierce than the 1977 BBC film adaptation when he is up against Nancy Sullivan’s feisty version of Margery. When Pinchwife locks her up in her chamber (for fear she will run to Horner) and insists she writes a letter rejecting Horner’s advances, she appears giggly, oblivious to his threat to stab her with a spoon.
Pinchwiife’s sister, the glamorous and streetwise Alithea (played by Siubhan Harrison) informs Margery on what she is missing of London society.
She herself is engaged to marry Sparkish a rather flamboyant chap. Sparkish (played by Daniel Cane) appears oblivious to the fact that his friend Frank Harcourt (played by Leo Staar) is in love with and trying to woe his fiancée.
Joshua Hill plays the playboy Dorilant whose charms appear to work less with the ladies. He gets on rather well with Sparkish by the end.
The set and costume design by Stewart Charlesworth is as glitzy and luxurious as anything you would see in the West End. Charlesworth maximises the small centre staging area, while paying “homage” to the Georgian architecture of the restoration period of London.
Prop changes are cleverly incorporated into the choreography, thanks to movement director Heather Douglas’ musical interludes. We see dances such as the Charleston, the flapper and black bottom. Among the songs we get a vintage jazzed up version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.
Energetic, enjoyable and fun, The Country Wife, at Southwark Playhouse runs until April 21st. I highly recommend it.