The Provok’d Wife Cobweb Theatre Company

Hats off to Cobweb Theatre for choosing to stage a Restoration comedy for their latest production. I studied Restoration drama in my English Lit course many moons ago and I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually seen a production staged, so this was a rare treat. The Provok’d Wife was written by John Vanburgh and first staged in 1697, in the post-Puritan era when theatres were reopened and people were allowed to have some fun again. The play was very popular with its somewhat shocking subject matter for the time – a drunken brute of a husband, a faithless wife scheming infidelity, rakes, debauchery and French maids. The names of the characters personify their personal qualities - Sir John Brute is an unwilling husband and is literally a brute of a man, Heartfree is a rake who does not believe in love and Lady Fanciful imagines herself to be attractive and desirable.

The beautiful setting of the Playfair Hall and the harpsichord playing in the background as we entered all added to the ambience and anticipation. The audience is arranged around the room so that the action takes place all around us and we feel that this is perhaps how this play was first presented, in an aristocratic drawing room. The set is simple but effective – a white backdrop on which is painted the front of Sir John’s house, complete with windows and doors through which scheming lovers and servants peep and eavesdrop, and two curtained arbours at either side. The costumes capture perfectly the spirit and the period of the play – colourful and fun, with a modern touch.

As to the acting, well it has to be said that this would be a difficult play to tackle for any company, far less a company of students and, in the end, this is an ambitious attempt which doesn’t quite come off. The high ceilings of the Playfair Hall needed strong clear voices to overcome the echoing space and it was difficult to catch all of the dialogue at times. The actors need to slow down and enunciate more clearly, at times it felt as if they were just reading a script rather than actually acting. There is a lot of quickfire dialogue and I felt some of the cast were too busy trying to master the lines and unfamiliar language to actually focus on the meaning and significance and the humour. The comic timing was a bit off but there were some comic moments, the highlight being James Millar as Lady Fanciful, loud and exuberant in drag. The stand out performance for me was Millie Mountain as Belinda who looked and sounded the part of a restoration lady.

Overall, it looked good and there were some good directorial touches but it just needs a bit more work on the presentation. Ten out of ten for trying though.

Irene Brownlee