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Review of Morphic Graffiti’s The Country Wife at Southwark Playhouse

Joshua Hill, Leo Staar and Eddie Eyre Credit Darren BellMorphic Graffiti’s The Country Wife is currently playing in the large at Southwark Playhouse, and I can highly recommend it as a fun evening for those who love a song, a dance and the bawdy humour of restoration comedy.

Morphic Graffiti have taken William Wycherley’s restoration comedy, penned n 1675 and transported it to the roaring 1920s of High Society London. The play when written was considered very scandalous and its frank language and sexual intonation kept it off the stage between 1753 and 1924. Setting the piece amongst the London elite; lasciviousness, indulgences and high society is the perfect era for this fast-paced comedy.

The piece opens in a museum, on display are two mannequins wearing outfits from the restoration period, enter the character Dainty Fidget (Mable Clements) who walks behind said mannequins and curtain and partakes in what can only be described as off stage loud sex with a to-be-named character! The unseen couple knocks the wig from the mannequin’s head, the curtain falls, jazz music plays is played loudly and the full ensemble appears on stage dressed in 1920s attire. The opening is memorable, fun and instantly welcomes its audience to the world of restoration comedy, the universe has been set, the period established and as an audience, we are comfortable and know what to expect.

The piece is a fun, pacey production that explores two core stories which of course lead to plot tangles and much confusion, direct addresses to the audience, listening behind closed doors and much innuendo.

The cast are solid. However, there are three outstanding members who deserve a mention; Nancy Sullivan, who portrays the country wife Margery Pinchwife, Eddie Eyre the “eunuch” Harry Horner and Daniel Cane, the rather camp and flamboyant Sparkish. These three performances are worth the ticket price alone.

Sullivan’s portrayal of the suffering country wife, who is down in London from the country (Essex) and in pursuit of her secret admirer, is a complete joy to watch. Every movement and gesture that Sullivan makes is on-point. Her character is smart yet stupid, quick yet slow. Her comic timing impeccable and she really brings the suffering wife of Mr Pinchwife to life, as an audience we will her on to have her affaire and applaud her cunning.

Eddie Eyre is confident and unabashed in his performance of our protagonist Harry Horner. He has a real presence on stage that makes you want to watch him wherever he is. He too has a real presence and plays Harry Horner with great ease. It is a joy watching him.

For me, what is most memorable and enjoyable in the production is the movement direction and the sound design. Not something I’d usually rave about in my review, however, in this instance these two features are hugely paramount to the success of the piece and move the story along beautifully.

The production has been cleverly crafted so that each scene is framed with a modern-day musical mash-up of jazz and popular music, e.g “Oops!… I Did It Again” and “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” re-versioned to sound as if they are being performed in a speak-easy. Whilst the music is playing the ensemble move the set and props along to the music, recreating shapes from the dance floor, Charleston style. This is hugely effective and raises the performance value.

There are some fantastic scenes in the production, too many to mention here, however, I can state that most of them include the character Harry Horner, either trying to convince his male counterparts that he is indeed a eunuch, or illustrating quite confidently to his female counterparts that all of his parts are in full working order. The one exception to this is the scene between Pinchwife (Richard Clews) and Margery Pinchwife (Nancy Sullivan) where Pinchwife cruelly dictates a letter to his wife. This scene was beautifully executed and.

If you’re a fan of fun and frolics, what to laugh out loud at absurd comedy that is at its base and bawdy best, then you’re in for a treat with The Country Wife.

4 stars

Review by Faye Stockley

Thrust into the excesses and seductions of late 1920s London: a city exploding with a heavy mix of jazz, gin and scandalous affairs, The Country Wife opens at Southwark Playhouse on 4 April, with previews from 28 March, and runs until 21 April.

Director: Luke Fredericks; Set and Costume Designer: Stewart Charlesworth
Movement Director: Heather Douglas; Lighting Designer: Sam Waddington

Cast: Richard Clews King Lear, (Chichester Festival Theatre), Sarah Lam (Chimerica, Almeida Theatre / Harold Pinter Theatre, Lucky Man, No Problem!), Sam Graham (Spooks, Kingdom, Footballer’s Wives), EastEnders’ Eddie Eyre, Call the Midwife’s Leo Staar, West End stars Siubhan Harrison, Nancy Sullivan and Daniel Cane, Mabel Clements and Joshua Hill.

Morphic Graffiti presents
The Country Wife
By William Wycherley
Running until 21 April
At Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

Author

  • Faye Stockley

    Faye read Theatre & Performance at The University of Warwick; she went on to work as a stage manager in London and Edinburgh. She had a year's stint on-board the MV Island Escape as a Social Host and Compere and now works full time as a Recruitment Manager for the broadcast, entertainment and media sectors.

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