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The Country Wife

By William Wycherley

Royal Exchange Theatre, 17 September 2012

Oliver Gomm as Mr Sparkish (left) and Nick Fletcher as Mr Pinchwife in THE COUNTRY WIFE.  Photo - Jonathan Keenan

Oliver Gomm as Mr Sparkish (left) and Nick Fletcher as Mr Pinchwife in THE COUNTRY WIFE. Photo – Jonathan Keenan

This is a well-crafted production of a play that, to be absolutely frank, hasn’t aged terribly well.

Whatever the opposite of a classic might be – ‘ephemeron’ would seem to be an apt word – you have it here.

What’s it all about, then?  Well, it is set in London society and it’s about a group of young fellows, they call themselves rakes and wags and such like, who fuck other blokes’ wives for sport.  It’s a culture of cuckolding (the word recurs throughout the play), you might say.  And she’s next in the firing line, so to speak, the country wife of the title, that is.

Rather misogynistic, that’s one problem with the play: there’s the assumption that every woman wants it, is sexually available and there for the taking.  You don’t feel, either, that the author has very much experience of the world, that’s another issue.  It’s like an undergraduate fantasy.  Also, the comedy now looks rather laboured.  Overall, there’s a frivolity and inconsequence to it all.

One bright feature, however, was Oliver Gomm’s performance as Mr Sparkish, a reluctant beau.  He stole the show here, as he did also in Charley’s Aunt.  His costumes were spectacular as well.

The Country Wife is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 20 October, further details can be found here.

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