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Riverside Players - The Provoked Wife

20th to 24th August 2002.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

A riot of fops and flummery

RIVERSIDE PLAYERS' 'THE PROVOKED WIFE', in the grounds of Pangbourne College, from Tuesday, August 20 to Saturday, August 24

'The Provoked Wife' by John Vanbrugh is a gloriously outspoken 18th century comedy of sex and marriage, debauchery and revenge and this outdoor production directed by Jimmy Keene charmingly recreated this world of fops and flummery.

When first performed the play attracted hostile attention from the church, declaring it too lewd for the stage. Even the actress, the aptly named Mrs Bracegirdle, found herself prosecuted for her 'indecent expression'.

However, to a modern audience it has lost its power to shock and is now no more than a bawdy and cynical comedy of manners with an emphasis on dialogue.

The Riverside Players captured this with a simple staging that blended well in to the rural setting of the college grounds, ensuring that the focus remained on the language and characterization.
Colin Burnie plays Sir Brute as a rapacious and testy misogynist given to trawling the streets in drunken revelry. His wife Lady Brute, played with saintly intelligence by Hana Askew, is to her husband no more than a piece of reviled property. It is not a marriage based on love — she married for his estate and he for a bedmate.

Such treatment finds her poised on the brink of adultery and given her husband's pitiless and dark nature it is no surprise. Her actions initiate the main plot involving the two gallants Heartfree and Constant, a superb double-act from Chris Gladwin and Jeff Leach. Add to this the schemer and meddlesome deluded Lady Fancyfull, an excellent Rosemary Saunders, and you have a perfect example of Restoration drama.

However, despite the high-spirited playing, there is no escaping marital disharmony and the author clearly thought of marriage as holy deadlock rather than holy wedlock, a living hell where divorce is not an option. The outcome for the Brutes is a miserable and ghastly stalemate, as their situation is clearly unresolved. Nevertheless, despite Fancyfull's attempts to make mischief for the other protagonists all ends comparatively well.

'The Provoked Wife' is no longer dangerous and what may have been crude debauchery now appears no more than riotous misrule. This clearly came across in the production with both company and direction playing it for the laughs, a wise move given Vanbrugh's wicked and bleak cynicism.