The Provoked Wife review at the Hope Theatre, London – ‘energetically modernised Restoration comedy’
When he wasn’t designing architectural masterpieces such as Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard, polymath John Vanbrugh had a side line as a playwright, producing a number of comedies that aren’t revived all that often these days.
Written in 1697, The Provoked Wife is one of these. Sir John and Lady Brute have been married for two years and both are sick of it. Sir John takes to drink and his wife considers an affair in order to spice up her tiresome existence.
Hannah Boland Moore’s largely effective if occasionally abrasive production transports these late 17th-century Made in Chelsea-esque figures to a music festival (one with glamping) where the idle rich are granted license to behave even more outrageously than in town.
The young cast handle the artifice and tricky language well. Jessie Lilley has fun as the outrageously self-important, hair-flicking Lady Fanciful (her paean to her own beauty captured in selfies). Tim Gibson and Will Heale play off each other nicely as a fetching pair of palely loitering young bucks, and Will Kelly’s Sir John Brute calls to mind a boorish banker used to getting his own way in all matters.
The multiple strands brought together at the end (as is the nature of all Restoration comedy) is satisfying if contrived, given some edge by the sassy Belinda (Claudia Campbell), whose outspoken nature is seen as refreshing by her suitor – at least until the ring is on her finger.