The Country Wife comes to town

The Country Wife by William Wycherley, Suffolk Youth Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre until Saturday

In the hands of the Suffolk Youth Theatre, William Wycherley’s 400 year old theatre classic, becomes a fast-paced, tightly directed, gloriously colourful exploration of social and sexual politics and proves that in the complex relationships that exist between men and women, there’s something eternal about the dangerous mix of desire and jealousy.

The Country Wife appears at first sight to be just a frivolous Restoration romp until you see the care that director Michael Platt has spent in providing each member of the cast with a strong and easily identifiable identity. There’s no such thing as extras or background parts in this production, everyone, including the maids are individuals and Platt and his talented cast have successfully populated an entire community on the New Wolsey stage.

We are introduced to this mix of gentry, artists, doctors, ladies and maids at the beginning of the play, through a tableaux-style prologue which Platt and the cast worked up during the rehearsals. We see the townspeople parading in front of one another, swapping gossip and establishing their personalities before launching into the play proper. It’s a masterstroke which means that the audience has an idea of who everyone is before the first piece of dialogue is spoken.

As you would expect the standard of acting is incredibly high, as the company attracts some of the very best young performers from across the county. Because of the adult subject matter, it was designed to serve as a wonderful send-off for several of the older members of the company, who are leaving this summer for drama school and university.

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Acting-wise there wasn’t a weak performer on the stage. The ensemble nature of the piece meant that there were no leads as such but Aaron Seaman’s preening Mr Horner held our attention as the notorious rake ably supported his fawning collection of friends while Nancy Smith made a suitably elegant Lady Fidget accompanied by some well-played and easily tempted gentlewomen. There were plenty of finely drawn comic performances to treasure from Alfie Harris as the paranoid Mr Pinchwife, Lucy Tomlinson as his eponymous Country Wife and Robin Dicker’s Sir Jasper Fidget but it fell to Joe Reed to almost steal the show as the outlandish Mr Sparkish.

The staging was simple but effective - just three doors - provided the setting but kept the action moving while the costumes were a visual and inventive feast in their own right. The use of spoons and bolts as coat decorations was inspired. Finally you can’t ignore composer and musical director Pat Whymark. Her infectious songs complemented the action perfectly, kept the story moving and allowed the audience to explore the characters in more depth.

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Highly recommended if you fancy a bawdy night at the playhouse and want to experience a show bursting with colour and energy. Excellent.

Andrew Clarke

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