Our next production is William Wycherley’s racy and ribald comedy The Country Wife. It will be our first Restoration comedy and we are excited to be working out how we are going to tackle this sparkling and energetic play.
Beneath the surface
Restoration comedies represented a burgeoning of creativity and a release of inhibitions following a period of cultural austerity. In the grand scheme of things, they appear frivolous and superficial: fashionable people socialise, flirt and flatter, mock those beneath them and go on about love, marriage, sex and venereal disease.
Underneath, however, an enormous amount is going on: power play, jealousy, politicking and double-sided wit. It makes the dialogue effervescent and fast, complex and loaded with innuendo. The characters vie with each other, love and hate, flatter and insult; they are sharp and on the ball. Even those who appear superficially different or socially or culturally inferior – such as the country wife herself who enamoured of all that happens in the big city – reveal a scheming side, able to manipulate others to their own ends. Or some of the older characters who appear a bit dufferish to the others, share their real wit and skill with the audience through the asides.
Traditional or modern?
The Country Wife is bawdy and rude, even to modern tastes, and there is much for a new production to revel in. Productions of Restoration comedies can be mannered and authentic in terms of recreating the moves and postures of the time including proper stick walking and fan action. Along with this is all the correct costuming, wiggery and make-up (love spots, rouge, white foundation etc).
Alternatively they can be modern cross-over interpretations which mix up authentic and modern clothing, such as frock coats and jeans. With this approach the actors are freer in terms of movement and characterisation and can bring a modern level of energy to the seventeenth century dialog. This has the advantage of being able to explore and revel in the ribaldry and wit also the cynicism and darkness of the plots and the scheming.
Of course we favour the latter approach – bringing modern characterisation and flair to an old script and making it relevant and more accessibe for audiences. As with our approach to Shakespeare, while respecting the rhythms and complexity of the language and the skills needed to speak it clearly, we don’t allow the language to restrict and inhibit the interpretation and the real energy and emotional intentions and impacts that are happening in each moment of the play.
Reviewers have valued the way we re-purpose Shakespeare and make it our own; our aim is to the do the same for this richly worded Restoration masterpiece The Country Wife.
The Country Wife is performing at Ludlow Brewery 14th to 22nd June and then at the Walker Studio, Theatre Severn Shrewsbury on Saturday 24th June. How to get tickets.