David Benedict on theatre

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Indy Lifestyle Online
'The best comedy in the English language,' screamed the critics. Well, one critic anyway. Understatement would appear to have been in short supply when The Provoked Husband (currently starring Charles Grant and Shona Lindsay, right) was first performed in 1728.

For all we know, Sir John Vanbrugh may have slipped the critic a few used guineas to come up with said opinion, but director Jon Harris believes that while the comment is a little extreme, this play is definitely worth a revival, especially as no one has touched it since 1859 at Sadler's Wells. These days, the British Library must be positively overrun with directors leaping upon unjustly neglected masterpieces and rushing them into production. Any theatre worth its salt is presenting 'lost masterpieces from the Golden Age of something-or-other.

Harris denies the charge of jumping on a bandwagon. 'The only person who is entitled to make that criticism is someone who sees the play and doesn't laugh. I get sick of seeing the same tired old plays. I blame editors and publishers: they're the ones who keep so much inferior work in print. Only one act is authoritatively Vanbrugh's, but I think he wrote a good deal more of it and the rest was finished by Colly Cibber. It's a real find. It says so much about the Restoration attitude to women and argues that marriage should be a compromise rather than a dictatorship.' Sounds like it isn't just a comedy.

'The Provoked Husband' previews from tonight at the New End Theatre (071-794 0022) See Beyond the West End, North

(Photograph omitted)

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