The Provoked Wife

by John Vanburgh

Southwark Playhouse

(2003)

Review by Philip Fisher

Director, Paul Jepson has a very original vision of Restoration comedy. From the moment that the traditional introductory dance transforms itself to disco, nothing is certain.

Sir John Brute, charmingly overacted by Simon Merrells, is a modern cad but slips down the centuries with character intact. It is easy to imagine this philanderer as a contemporary man and one sees why his poor young wife (Jane Robbins) is obliged to seek love elsewhere with Constant (David Marshallsea). The latter is a less familiar present-day character, a man who will love from afar with no hope of fulfilment.

Throw in another loving couple, a villainous pair and an extremely good character actor (Mike Hayley) creating six highly varied parts and there is the recipe for much gentle humour.

The set, designed by Jess Curtis, is extremely clever with three sliding screens allowing swift scene changes to maintain pace in what seems a fairly heavily cut version. Her ultra-modern costumes show great style too.

Paul Jepson is never afraid to experiment and his innovation succeeds far more often than it fails. On occasion, the modernisation grates and can detract from the humour. Often though, it makes one consider the language and characters afresh and brings new laughs that the playwright could never have imagined.

The cast are generally very good and their energy ensures that a fast pace never drops. This may seem a long way from the original but it does provide an introduction for those who may not know Vanbrugh as well as a very pleasant evening.