THEATRE / David Benedict on theatre

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The last time I saw The Country Wife, it was performed by the John Lewis Dramatic Society, Oxford Street, fourth floor, (behind toys). The circumstances gave a whole new dimension to the play's questions about 'china.

Max Stafford Clark's production at the RSC affords less opportunities for prop-spotting - there is nothing extraneous in Peter Hartwell's set design. His blend of lycra and period costumes, however, speaks volumes about the production's intentions of pointing up the parallels between the sexual mores of Restoration society and the present day.

There's more than enough good acting on display to render Ian Dury and Mickey Gallagher's two interpolated songs redundant. Stafford Clark's directorial approach demands detailed acting from entire companies, and several members of this cast are more than up to the challenge, notably Kate Duchene's truthful, tough Alithea and Simon Dormandy's grandiloquent, self-loving Sparkish. Alexandra Gilbreath also comes up with an inventive performance as the 'comedy-maid. But it is Pinchwife and his country wife who steal the show. Robin Soans's voice and physicality are entirely by jealousy and the repression of his self-doubt. Debra Gillett (with Jeremy Northam, below), meanwhile, manages to portray wonderment, puzzlement and glee simultaneously. Their self-control is fascinating and very funny. One or two other members of the cast would do well to watch. As would we.

The Country Wife continues in repertory at the Pit. Box office: 071-638 8891

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