The Country Wife was written by William Wycherley in 1675, but Morphic Graffiti’s adaptation brings us to the Roaring Twenties where a group of Bright Young Things – and a few not so young – seek to manipulate one another in this sex-laden farce.
The Jazz Age refresh by Luke Fredericks and Stewart Charlesworth is a good idea, but in fact you’re no sooner in the 1920s than an awkward modern day where lengthy scene changes, which often act as a means for cast members to show off varying levels of footwork, are set to modern and often just a tad too loud music, from Lady Gaga to the recurrent 80s classic ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’. It’s a nice touch, but slightly confusing.
Eddie Eyre is hesitant as resident cad Mr Horner, who masks himself as a eunuch to get close to the ladies. Despite the constant sight of his rippling six-pack, Eyre sets a tone of impotence from the opening scene that infects the rest of the limp two-and-a-half-hour performance. His love at first sight for Mr Pinchwife’s new country bride, played by a child-like Nancy Sullivan, is just as unbelievable as her EastEnd accent, and fails to keep the audience’s attention.
Mr Horner’s boy band gang gives Eyre some confidence, particularly in the gym scene where all sport only a towel to spare their modesty, but ultimately the young men fail to spark the imagination. That said, one of the best and most assured performances comes from Daniel Cane as a rather camp Sparkish, who is almost the only glimmer in this otherwise dull show. Likewise, his betrothed Alithea, played by Siubhan Harrison brings a touch of class to proceedings and her smouldering glare is one of the most successful attempts at sensuality.
Unfortunately, the older cast members often fall on the side of bumbling. Richard Clews as the cuckolded Mr Pinchwife is convincing in his desperation to keep his young wife from other men, but is off-putting with his consistently whiney voice. Similarly, Sam Graham and Sarah Lam as Sir Jasper and Lady Fidget feel like a superfluous addition in this adaptation, despite their obvious enthusiasm.
Littered with innuendo and scenes where both audience and actors teeter on uncomfortable – a shrill orgasm under the table comes to mind – this production attempts to rest on its bawdy laurels, unwisely. Well-intentioned, but a little too long and not enough polish.
The Country Wife is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 21 April
Photo: Darren Bell