The Constant Wife

W Somerset Maugham

Apollo

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

Somerset Maugham was one of the most popular writers of the early twentieth-century. Sadly, he has now dropped out of fashion and it is therefore something of a surprise to see Edward Hall's revival of his 1927 play, The Constant Wife.

This is a dreadfully immoral play with some very clever plot twists. Once in the second act and once in the last, Maugham comes up with surprises for the audience that must have seem even more stunning in the moral climate of 75 years ago.

At that time, the leading actresses must have been fighting over the opportunity to play the Constant Wife. This was still a period where leads in plays were played by men and the part of Constance not only gives an actress the chance to shine but also allows her to propagate truly feminist virtues.

To counterbalance these real strengths, the acting in this production is of variable quality. In addition, the use of greatly heightened language that is sometimes almost unspeakable by 21st century actors makes the play seem dated.

Jenny Seagrove, the star of many TV shows including Judge John Deed, is first of all introduced among her coterie of friends. These include her mother, (played by former Avenger, Linda Thorsen), her future employer and her sister, Martha (the excellent Serena Evans). This is a role that requires a very bitchy performance and Evans is effortlessly up to the task.

Into this group of women come Constance's husband, a philandering surgeon played by Stephen Pacey, a former lover in the traditional sense whom she hasn't seen for 15 years (Simon Williams), and her best friend and husband's lover, a particularly unconvincing Sara Crowe.

At times, Miss Seagrove really gets into her part but she does tend to drift out of it on occasions, to the extent that one wonders whether she has had adequate rehearsal time. Stephen Pacey as the archetypical man, someone who can never resist a pretty face, also has difficulties, although these seem more linked to the lack of depth of his character.

This is an undemanding evening's entertainment packed with names that many will recognise from television shows over the last 30 or so years. This should help to make it a commercial success but whether it leads to a series of productions of Maugham's plays is more doubtful.