The Country Wife
Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow
£11.00 to £13.50
Wycherley’s ‘The Country Wife’ – directed here at the RCS by James Robert Carson – is a sparky comedy of manners which, following great success at the tail end of the 17th century because it suited Restoration taste, died a death in its original form for around 250 years, being too hot, too mischievous, too close to the bone. Does it work today? Well, themes of hypocrisy and false reputation, of finding a place in demanding social networks, of what’s the story in public and private, all seem to chime with what’s going on now: especially when the main thread is the tussle between and among the sexes.
Three plot lines keep the action rolling: a rake feigning impotence to further his access to women; a former rake, now married to a ‘country wife’, who wants to keep her out of temptation’s way on a first visit to the city; then a pair of lovers in a tangle. The language is racy and keen – Wycherley’s skill in good one-liners established a fashion that shows no sign of flagging. True wits thrive; aspiring duds, like Sparkish and Sir Jasper Fidget here, tend to get it in the neck. The company, well coached and well paced, delivered the narrative and punchlines well – not so easy, because of the quickfire exchanges – and, as a result the audience on opening night clued in quickly and picked it up fine.
Lorne MacFadyen, the duplicitous Horner (none of the names being subtle!), made his entrance half stripped, like an 80’s rock star, advancing front stage to admire himself in the glass. His presence and sure delivery established the business straight away – and the swirl of quackery, raillery, seduction, scheming and so on had a good start and didn’t flag. The first half had a few odd spots – I didn’t always get the costume choices, and a couple of the characters didn’t quite mesh, but by the finale things were sorted.
As the ‘innocent’ and irrepressible Margery, Connie Hartley had charm and cheek in equal measure. As Pinchwife her husband, Hamish Riddle played the apoplectic poop to proper effect. Carly Tisdale, Snaedis Gudmund and Emily-Jane McNeill (good voices!) were an energetic, swish and predatory set of society women, establishing the low but scintillating moral tone. Lee Parker as the politico Sir Jasper Fidget was suitably self-obsessed and oleaginous. The Quack (Robert Ginty) and the Boy (Stephen Redwood) slotted in as required. Jess Nahikian’s Alithea was all the more attractive for being ‘righteous’ and indignant; Michael Collins, her admirer Harcourt, and Rodolfo Valadez Moto, her gullible ‘wit’, came out of her shadow better in the second half. Lucy, the judicious servant (Alix Austin), sewed things up neatly at the end: even managing to coax sweet Margery to ‘loy’.
The settings were simple: table, chair, couch or couches, clothes rack (for concealment) and moveable flats with large mulicolour dots on white were shifted smoothly around. The notorious bit where Horner shows Lady Fidget his ‘china’ was played, as one might expect, to ecstatic off-stage huffing and puffing and banging of crockery. But the best was the hilarious conclusion when, like a scene out of Tarantino, handguns were flourished in faces – even Old Mrs Squeamish (Alexandra Cockerill) pulls a piece from her purse – and the denouement (when everyone, with some brilliant and unexpected pairings, moved into a slow foxtrot to ‘Moon River’) had us all happy: whatever moral quandaries we may have had to set aside en route.Four Stars
Reviewer: Mr Scales