The Country Wife

William Wycherley, adapted by Steve Gooch
Forest Forge Theatre Company
Pride of Place Festival 2006
(2006)

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Sean Aita's 'directorial whimsy' in using contemporary props and music to give this Restoration comedy some reference points for a contemporary audience pays off a treat in Forest Forge's version of the play showcased at the Pride of Place Festival. This tale of a naïve country wife's first visit to naughty London, and her learning to be as consummate a schemer as the next woman, is performed with evident enjoyment by a splendid ensemble under Aita's witty direction.

After an opening burst of Saturday Night Fever to set the mood, the play begins with its womanising hero Mr Horner, played with cheeky panache by Richard Emerson, taking a pee into a metal pot held by a doctor, who promptly dips in a finger and takes a lick to test his client's health. But Horner has never felt better, particularly now he is about to launch his latest seduction ploy onto the unsuspecting capital. For Horner is putting it around the town that, since his stay in France, he is 'an eunuch', and as such can be trusted by husbands to be a safe companion for their wives.

This is first put to the test on Sir Jasper (Matt Pinches) and Lady Fidget (Kate Adams). The outrageously foppish Sir Jasper falls so completely for Horner's claims that he insists Horner stays to entertain Lady Fidget in her bedchamber while he himself goes about his business. The Lady's displeasure at her companion's apparent lack of the manly prerequisites soon turns to rampant delight - in a beautifully choreographed montage of athletic lovemaking - when she discovers that he is in fact amply accoutred.

The next target is his friend Pinchwife (Oliver Hume), who has just brought his young and pretty wife up to town for the first time. Margery's innocent confessing that she enjoys the theatre because of the fine actor-men results in her being shut indoors by her jealous husband, though not before she's been spotted by Horner. Pinchwife agrees to take her round the town dressed as a boy, but Horner sees through the disguise and uses it to insinuate himself into the beautiful 'young man's' arms and affections.

When Pinchwife discovers the double-bluff he makes his wife write a letter of rejection to Horner, but she cleverly scribbles a loveletter when he pops out for an envelope, and manages to switch the letters when he's not looking. Horner is astonished and delighted to receive Margery's letter of love from her own husband's hand, and her education in guile is furthered when she contrives to escape to her lover disguised as her sister-in-law.

This hugely entertaining production is greatly enlivened by the use of 70s disco music and some anachronistic props (Margery manages to switch letters thanks to a self-seal envelope), and also by the perfectly choreographed scene changes, which Dominic Hughes and his nameless colleague achieve with an amusing blend of restoration and contemporary style. Steve Gooch's double entendres give the Carry On scriptwriters a run for their money, and Forest Forge's saucy comedic energy draws every ounce of entertainment from what could so easily have seemed a theatrical curiosity.

Reviewer: Jill Sharp