‘a super, life-enhancing, laugh-out-loud 100 or so minutes, and impossible to leave without grinning’
It takes something special to make a 320-year-old play feel fresh, funny, and entirely up-to-date, and Marooned Theatre do exactly that with their new take on Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Wife.
Of course, it ought to be the mark of a classic that it speaks for all time, but plenty of productions of even more recent work lay them to rest with the dead-hand of over-reverence or a twitching hand that won’t trust its audience to find the modern parallels for itself. Not this production: it’s a super, life-enhancing, laugh-out-loud 100 or so minutes, and impossible to leave without grinning.
Vanbrugh’s comedy is both feather-light and needle-sharp, being an account of the romantic goings-on of young men and young women married and not. He’s not a one for subtlety in naming his characters: Sir John Brute provokes his eponymous wife with his drunken negligence, Lady Fanciful is full of fancy for herself, and Constant, Lovewell, Heartfree – you get the idea.
Marooned have coupled the language of the original (or at least its flavour) with naturalistic (and fluent) delivery by a uniformly strong cast and some witty 21st century touches – Lady Fanciful’s paean of praise to her mirror is here delivered to her phone as she takes endless selfies.
From the start, it’s sharp, funny, briskly directed and a perfect example of empty stage production with nought but a chair and a screen representing palace, sylvan glade, and all between without our ever doubting where we are.
The original has been truncated chunkily without excessive violence to its sense (some character merging and a dropped storyline or two), although the clever servant Lovewell’s final untangling of the skein of romantic threads seems a little glib and not quite coherent.
But it’s refreshing in a careful age to see characters be so cheerfully, unselfconsciously misogynistic and misandrist about the opposite sexes while Vanbrugh let us see how self-defeatingly dim it is to be so, until they come to their senses and reach love triumphant.
THE PROVOKED WIFE by John Vanbrugh
Directed by Hannah Boland Moore
Presented by Marooned Theatre
Box Office: http://www.thehopetheatre.com/find-contact/
Phone: 0333 666 3366
Reviewer David Weir’s Confessional featured in the Oran Mor Play, Pie, Pint season in Glasgow in May. The post-referendum family drama Better Together was at Brockley Jack Theatre, London (2016), and other plays have been performed at the Arundel and Windsor festivals, Greenwich Theatre, the Isle of Wight, and a pub lunchtime theatre in Perth, Australia. Better Together (2015) and Legacy (2011) were longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize.