BrumHour was invited to the press night of The Provoked Wife by The RSC.
By David Fox
The Provoked Wife at The RSC
by John Vanbrugh, Directed by Philip Breen
Lady Brute is tired of her tedious, loveless marriage and her tedious, drunk husband. When she decides to spice up her love life with a younger man, scandal threatens to ruin her.
Director Phillip Breen brings his comedy Midas touch to this outspoken Restoration romp that shocked 17th century society ably directing Caroline Quentin, Rufus Hound, and Jonathan Slinger.
Restoration theatre, is a term used to describe plays staged following the restoration of the English Monarchy in 17th Century, when plays were staged once more in London theatres. Plays became famous for their satire, comedy of manners, and relationship troubles, and The Provoked Wife exemplifies all of these.
Restoration comedies were the Carry Ons… of their day and The Provoked Wife certainly includes some of their tropes – secret relationships, boorish husbands, and men in drag. Whilst the energetic first act was farcical, tongue in cheek, and fun things took a more serious and somber tone in the second act as scandal erupted and the repercussions of clandestine affairs took hold.
I found it amazing how the themes and ideas of this play written three-hundred years ago are still very relevant today thought provoking about the nature of relationships, and how women are treated. Viewed through a 21st Century perspective some of the comments were quite uncomfortable, while some make you realise how little has changed.
The Provoked Wife boasts a fantastic ensemble cast. Alexander Gilbreath was wonderful as the titular wife – Lady Brute. Caroline Quentin as the wonderfully named Lady Fanciful was simply majestic. Totally scheming and in love with herself she was hilariously over the top. Jonathon Slinger is a great RSC stalwart and favourite of mine since I saw him as Richard III over ten years ago so it was interesting to see him in a more comedic role as Sir John Brute: a boorish, disgusting character who you love to hate. A highlight to see him drag up! Rufus Hound was brilliant in Don Quixote a couple of years ago and it was wonderful to see him again here as prospective lover Constant. It was also fantastic to see TV game show legend Les Dennis, make his RSC debut in the minor of Colonel Bull – hope to see more of him in future productions!
I loved the set which evoked a late 17th Century theatre, and the costumes were fantastic – traditional Restoration period costumes, painted white faces and rouged cheeks, and enormous wigs (think Sir Isaac Newton). One drunken scene in a tavern reminded me of the famous Hogarth paintings on ‘gin lane’.
I really enjoyed The Provoked Wife, a funny, thought provoking with a great mix of hilarious farce, high drama, and even some musical interludes. It has made me want to learn more about this period of English Theatre.
The Provoked Wife is at The RSC’s Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon until 7th September 2019. Book tickets here: rsc.org.uk/the-provoked-wife/
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When not writing for #BrumHour, David Fox spends his time wondering when Checkov is back on the midlands stage or is that Chekov?