Mr Monkey sees The Country Wife at the Royal Exchange Theatre
Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 12th September 2012
End date : 20th October 2012
Visit date : 17th September, 2012
Mr Monkey scampered into Manchester for the press night of The Country Wife. He checked the poster outside, then strolled in to collect his tickets. After trotting up to the Mezzanine to see the In Posters exhibition, he sat down to wait for some rollicking Restoration comedy.
The Country Wife was written by William Wycherley in 1675 and was regarded at the time as the bawdiest and wittiest play ever seen on the English stage. This led to it not being performed when attitudes changed - it wasn't staged at all between 1753 and 1924.
There are three basic plot strands, the first two apparently being adapted from Molíere plays which Wycherley had seen when in exile in France.
In the first strand, upper class rake-about-town Harry Horner decides to seduce as many respectable women as he can; he feigns impotence to convince husbands that he is a safe companion for their wives. He is surprisingly successful in this.
The second strand concerns Mr Pinchwife, who has married a young country girl in the hope that she will be too naive to know how to cuckold him. Crucially for the plot, Mr Pinchwife has amazingly missed the news about Horner's supposed impotence, and goes to ludicrous lengths to prevent his wife seeing anything of London, especially Horner.
The final strand, made up without any French assistance, is woven around the first two. One of Horner's friends, Harcourt, falls in love with Mr Pinchwife's sister, Alithea, despite the fact that she is supposed to be marrying an idiot called Sparkish within a couple of days.
After a series of misunderstandings everything ends happily with Harcourt and Alithea married, Horner free to have his way with certain married women, and Margery, the country wife, still married to a pathologically jealous husband with a penchant for threatening to blind her.
The set is simple, notable mainly for the four standpipes that supply the cast with water and wine at crucial moments during the play. Mirrors around the stage hint at the narcissistic nature of high society.
The costumes are mostly authentic Restoration, which means that the men's wigs make them look like spaniels; Mr Sparkish is a notable exception, sporting an even stranger wig. Mr Monkey wasn't totally convinced by the bunny ears worn in one scene by one of the Fidget women, but was impressed by the costumes in general.
There are strong performances all round.
Felix Scott and Nick Fletcher were so convincing as Horner and Pinchwife that Mr Monkey genuinely loathed them. Amy Morgan plays Margery Pinchwife with verve and energy and wonderful naivety. Oliver Gomm's Mr Sparkish doesn't let his magnificent wig down. Eliza Collings' Alithea and Nicholas Bishop's Harcourt provide a welcome breath of honesty.
Mr Monkey found the play misogynistic and stuffed with easily dislikable characters, but realised that their behaviours and attitudes were acceptable and considered humourous by the people who patronised Restoration theatre. Wycherley held up a mirror to London high society and high society looked at itself and smirked. Whatever Mr Monkey's qualms about the mores of Restoration society, he was engrossed by this production.