The Country Wife at The Royal Exchange, Manchester

Wisdom according to William Wycherley: ‘If a woman wants wit in a corner, she has it nowhere.’ Funny? Certainly. True? Couldn’t possibly comment. Offensive? Holy hell, yes. But The Country Wife was always meant to be controversial. In the 17th Century, it was practically obscene and sparked protests amongst ‘women of honour’ when it was first performed. Nowadays, it’s little more than a delicious Benny Hill-esque rampage (except Benny is wearing tights and a wig).

A typical farce, the play gives us Mr Horner, the notorious rake who’s bedded one too many wives to be trusted around women. Fortunately, our pesky friend has a solution – impotence! Pretending to be a eunuch, his little plot thickens (forgive me – the Benny Hill bug is catching!)

In a nanosecond, the rumour of Horner’s castration abounds and men are practically throwing their wives at his ‘harmless’ feet. They are only to happy to be ‘taken the back way’ to the theatre (yes, it really does show how much humour has matured in the past 400 years!) Only one man jealously guards his innocent ‘country wife’ from the clutches of Horner’s infamy. Mr. Pinchwife doesn’t trust Horner within an inch (or let’s say six and a half inches on average) of his naive bride Margery. As it turns out, Margery has quite a lot of wit in a corner…but absolutely none elsewhere. Funny that.

I laughed. A bit. It was better than watching the X Factor. I think. But I did fidget…and that’s never a good sign. No doubt this is a lack of intelligence: I couldn’t appreciate the restoration charm. The language was beyond me. That must be it. Or maybe Wycherley’s schoolboy humour is wasted on a feminist. Even one who can take a joke. It couldn’t have been the stomping actors, surely? I must have missed this episode of The Actors’ Studio on Sky. You know, the one that preaches heavy-footed plodding around the stage that drowns out what might just be scintillating dialogue. Some of the best lines were literally trodden on.

Margery Pinchwife (played by Amy Morgan) was the only real gift of the evening. Tiny, blonde and a voice like out-of-tune Christmas bells. Think Stacey (of Gavin and Stacey fame) only far less irritating and much more shrewd. Morgan’s portrayal of the Welsh ‘country wife’ was full of wit…everyone else should go and stand in a corner!

The Country Wife plays at The Royal Exchange in Manchester until 20th October.

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