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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Theatre - The Country Wife - The Royal Exchange

Star rating - 8/10

I always find it fascinating to see how popular culture is a product of the time it is created in, and there is no better example of such an influence than Restoration comedy. After the barren years of the Puritans, who banned stage plays, and the influence of the extravagant French on the English courtiers, who fled there before the monarchy was restored under Charles II, it is not surprising that writers like William Wycherley wanted to let their hair down with bawdy comedies. 

The Royal Exchange is currently doing a brilliant revival of his The Country Wife; a riotous comedy considered so lewd it was not performed for over 200 years. But its outrageous humour and double dealing feels right up to date and had this modern audience in fits of hysterical laughter (or was that just me?) 

The plot centres around Mr Horner (the clue is in the name) who persuades his fellow gentlemen that he is impotent, thus gaining unrivalled access to their wives to have his wicked way with - much to their delight. In particular he targets the naive country wife of the play's title of Jack Pinchwife. Margery is as green as they come, with hilarious results. Felix Scott is great as the duplicitous but delightful Mr Horner, and Amy Morgan plays the rural innocent to perfect effect.

But the show is stolen completely, as it was in other recent Exchange productions of both Charley's Aunt and Lady Windermere's Fan by the excellent, outrageous Oliver Gomm as Mr Sparkish. He is one of the best comic actors I have ever seen, and has the audience in fits of laughter in every scene he features in. He is pure comedy gold and a delight to watch.

The play takes a slightly darker turn in the second half but is no less entertaining for that. This is a thoroughly entertaining play and a great production in the hands of director Polly Findlay.The Puritans would be suitably horrified I am sure.

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