The Provoked Wife Greenwich Playhouse 12 October


Nasty photo of nice 30s-style set

The publicity for this show said PERFECT MAYHEM intends to do justice to [Vanbrugh] by bringing immorality and profaneness to the Greenwich stage in a trademark bold and daring production – tailored to the modern attention span. The company would like to warn people and apologise (not very sincerely) in advance about the explicit sexual content of the play and for jarring any conservative sensibilities.

That worried me a bit, but what we got was a sensible adaptation leaving out topical references and songs and moving at a sprightly pace in a 1930s-style setting that I illustrate inadequately above.  If anything, I think that time has bowdlerised the play in that ‘harlot’ and ‘strumpet’ hardly mean very much now and ‘punk’ means something different.

The play concerns Lady Brute who is not at all a brute but has married Sir John Brute who is for his money and is she going to take a lover in the form of young Constant.  Similarly her niece Belinda would quite like to marry Heartfree if he had lots of money.  The interesting things are the characters of Lady B (she is nice–modern sense!–but is she going to be good?) and Belinda, as an independent-minded young woman.  And so might Sir John be, but would require less underplaying than here–one thing he certainly wasn’t in his confrontation scene was drunk.

The plot is a bit of a problem, especially since we’re in a comedy that raised a respectable amount of laughs from the audience.  The author can hardly abandon Lady B to the mercies of her husband (since she’s gained the audience’s sympathy), but she would lose it if she got off with Constant and in the world of 1697 she could hardly leave Lord Brute, especially having no money as she hasn’t.  So we get  revelation, repentance and a happy ending involving Belinda and Heartfree and a reference to the Brutes that leaves their future undecided:

HEARTFREE  Then let’s to church, and if it be our chance to disagree–

BELINDA  Take heed, the surly husband’s fate you see.

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