The Country Wife

Fri 5th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Jessica Cripps

at 21:38 on 12th Aug 2016

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Reformation comedy is often very much of its time, and updating it to a contemporary setting is a mammoth task that requires balancing modern liberalism with the conservatism of the time. 'The Country Wife' failed. On epic proportions. Bluntly, this play is disastrously wrong on almost every level imaginable.

Newly divorced Harry Horner essentially uses his doctor to spread a rumour that he is impotent so he can con the rightfully sceptical men of the town into alone time with their flirtatious wives. Mark Brittlestone and Will Dalrymple adapted William Wycherley‘s anti-Puritan Reformation comedy of the same name to the modern context of affluent, American suburbia. Clearly there were good intentions in doing this, but it was the contemporary context that became the root of many of the play’s problems.

There is something deeply troubling about keeping the dialogue which considers women as possessions and expecting it to translate seamlessly into a modern context. It is uncomfortably aggravating considering it would have been easy to use the original script to draw attention to the existing problems of misogyny in modern society.

What is particularly bizarre, however, is that the writers have chosen a location that requires an accent that apparently no one can master. The accents range from a sweet Southern drawl to the hard, jarring accent of an Italian-American New Yorker, and everything in between. Apparently ‘suburban America’ literally means the whole of America.

This could easily have been forgiven as a flaw of an amateur but well-meaning cast. What is completely unacceptable, however, is the Islamophobic and downright racist jokes using a burqa as ammunition. Modern Mr Pinchwife (Aurélien Guéroult) disguises his new wife Margery (Jasmin Rees) in a burqa to protect her from womanising Harry Horner, and gives her a Muslim identity. The repeated satire of 'culturally innapropriate dress' and quips of it being 'typical of a Muslim to be a terrorist’ condemmned this dialogue as the horrifically Islamophobic waffle of comedy writers with no banter or imagination.

There are many more criticisms of this play. The staging is messy, distracting and poorly executed. Isaac Jordan’s attempts at Harry Horner’s soliloquys are rushed and inaudible. And while Elliott Wright’s drag interpretation of Vanessa Squeamish is obviously intended to provide light comedic relief, it becomes stale quickly.

At the end of the day, the audience laugh throughout, and that is something to be commended regardless of my opinion. Several audience members enthusiastically told each other that it was not as bad as they thought it was going to be. If I had not been so deeply drained by the whole experience, I might have asked them what they liked. However, like many of the company’s intentions, their opinions remain at large.

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Izzie Fernandes

at 14:29 on 13th Aug 2016

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Admittedly, I was perturbed upon entering the venue. I am a morning person, but in Fringe time, surely a 9.25am start is pushing it slightly? Alas, we make it to see The Cambridge University Creatives reworking of William Waycherly’s ‘A Country Wife’. Perhaps messily rehashing is more apt. The sporadic comedic twists of this Restoration drama eventually dwindle into unashamed offensiveness. Waycherly’s work is not itself totally un-amusing. Divorced Harry Horner feigns impotence in the hope of seducing the married women in his village; perhaps this would have been better left here.

I wonder why the performance is set it the Deep Southern American town Blandford, New England. Judging by the discordant ‘New England speak’, a more accessible accent might benefit the cast. Instead, noticeable variations of the Southern accent diminish believable character development creating an unfortunately two dimensional lineup of pantomime personae.

The humor of the piece is largely tasteless. Farcical and frivolous phrases like ‘cream puff’, ‘eunuch’, and ‘squalid little trollop’ are thrown at Horner. Whilst I suppose these fit the plot line, this script does little for years of LGBT rallying. As this drawn out and repetitive 75 minutes unfolds, funny moments become fewer and further between. Effrontery takes a turn for the offensive when aptly named Jack Pinchwife (Aurélien Guéroult) attempts to hide his wife from prying men; using a burqa. Initially this receives laughter, (which I scathingly consider a sympathetic move by the audiences). The later line, “a Muslim and a woman, she’ll probably crash - into a skyscraper” throws spanners in the works. Unsurprisingly, it is the whole joke which plummets.

Forget feminism; the piece is littered with misogyny- the presentation of the Southern women says is all; this is Restoration drama jarringly entangled with trashy America chick-flick. Vanessa Squeamish’s understudy's (usually performed by Elliot Wright) rendition of a "Girl’s Night In" is a graphic bikini waxing and leg shaving session to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s I Need a Hero. Although the musical interlude is a pleasant break from the unimpressive script, again the joke is lost on me; why is Vanessa in drag?

Some cast members cope better than others. Mr Sparkish (Jo Pieri) and Sir Jaspar Fidget (Harrison MacNeill) give the most convincing performances. I cannot empathize with Horner (Isaac Jordan). This is a grating casting choice for the central male protagonist and some nice moments are clouded by rigidity and a tendency to deliver lines to the floor. An almost creepy, serial killer tone epitomises what I suspect should be a maverick and rakish sexual pest.

Even after 70 minutes have passed, the final five drag. The burqa reappears, this time wielding guns whilst all twelve of the cast cluster messily onstage. Conclusive explanation should follow but instead ear-numbing yells put an end to an unsuccessful 75 minutes.

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