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The Country Wife review at Minerva Theatre, Chichester – ‘a stylish update’

Belinda Lang and Lex Shrapnel in The Country Wife at Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Back in April Southwark Playhouse staged a flamboyant and fun flapper era production of William Wycherley’s Restoration comedy, The Country Wife. Jonathan Munby’s version updates things further, presenting a modern dress production with a loosely rockabilly vibe.

The vice-ridden London that Pinchwife (John Hodgkinson) brings his new, naïve wife to resembles a cheep Camden tattoo parlour, complete with black pleather sofa and discarded bottles of Jack Daniels. Visually, there’s a lot of admire here thanks to Soutra Gilmour’s resolutely monochrome urban setting in which even a pizza box taken out the fridge adheres to the colour scheme.

In this black-and-white world, it’s only the titular wife, Margery Pinchwife (Susannah Fielding) who’s allowed any colour – a sunny shade of Bird’s Eye yellow that makes her stick out like a canary down a coalmine.

Belinda Lang brings a great hauteur to Lady Fidget, and Lex Shrapnel is convincingly louche as Horner, but the play frequently suffers from an overly-loud and fast style of delivery. And when Hodgkinson shouts at his disobedient wife while brandishing a knife, the threats sound a little too real – temporarily zapping the comedy out of the room altogether.

The set piece group dances in between scenes (movement by Charlotte Broom) are good fun and it’s more than possible to appreciate what was trying to be achieved here, but despite its sleek exterior, it never really rocks and rolls.

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Stylish, if slightly flash, modern update of William Wycherley’s comedy of sex, marriage and manners