On sitting down to watch Philip Wilson’s revival of The Constant Wife, I expected an entertaining production fixed firmly in the past, so it was a surprise to find Somerset Maugham’s play filled with ideas and questions that are strikingly relevant to a modern audience.
Does a woman’s economic independence from her husband give her the right to her sexual independence? Is marriage no more meaningful or binding than an agreeable arrangement? These weighty themes were treated in a light-hearted, humorous style.
The cast was very strong with no weak links; their evident enjoyment of the play created an atmosphere of warmth in the theatre. They delivered their lines with fluency and skilled comic timing, provoking frequent laughter from the audience.
Susie Trayling in particular shone as Constance, the title character who seemed to epitomise the “modern wife” of the 1920s – stylish, respectable and devoted to her husband. In the first act, Constance appeared naïve and foolish, apparently ignorant of her husband’s affair with her best friend. But it later became clear that it was she who was calling the shots.
Trayling’s Constance was immaculately classy; shrewd and conniving yet somehow intensely likeable – a beacon of levelheaded sense amid the ridiculous characters surrounding her.
Somerset Maugham’s script is witty and occasionally shocking, putting sexist stereotypes such as the idea that a married woman is a “parasite” into the mouths of the female characters.
Yet it is women who ultimately triumph as Constance takes her ingenious revenge, to the surprise of all – none more so than her charming husband John (played by David Michaels). His astonishment at realising he has been tricked by his wife rendered him at once furious and speechless, and was hilarious to watch.
Marie-Louise’s unbelievable flippancy and shamelessness in deceiving her best friend were excellently performed by Saskia Butler. Bentley the butler, played with gravitas by James Clarkson, was a hit with the audience, bringing in increasingly flamboyant table displays as the acts progressed and maintaining a sombre dignity despite the chaos unfolding around him.
Overall there is very little to criticise in Wilson’s production. In my opinion, the second act was a little longer than necessary, with some long, repetitious speeches which might have been cut down to ensure they made a strong impact on the audience. However, this was a minor problem and would not prevent me from recommending the play whole-heartedly. I laughed from beginning to end, and loved witnessing the lives of such memorable and entertaining characters. - Lucy
28 Mar 11
The Constant Wife is a really rather splendidly written play about Constance Middleton, your average 1920's middle-class housewife, who seems to have what she would call, a rather different outlook on life. Aware that her unloved husband is having an affair with her best friend, Constance keep quiet and starts to unravel a nasty little plan to almost seek revenge on her husband when one of Constance's childhood sweethearts comes back from Japan on a mission to gain her love. Using the opportunity given to her by another friend to work, Constance begins to turn her disloyal husband, and her own rather dull life completely upside down...
In this lively, well-thought out play, what seemed to be particularly enjoyed was the scenery and set. The set kept you entertained when the lines said by the actors didn't, and as it kept changing-the flowers bought in by the butler in each scene grew more and more flamboyant and colourful as the play progressed- and its modern furnishings and the way the actors interacted with the props, it really added to the high quality of the play.
The actors were fluent in speaking their lines, and delivered them with clarity and the necessary expression, sometimes exaggerating to make a joke out of someone, and occasionally shouting for emphasis and surprising the audience. Although I felt that some of the senior members of the audience would not be able to hear what she was saying clearly because of her posh English accent, I felt that Maggie Steed did a fabulous job of playing the rich, fussy mother, who had high expectations of her daughter, and that she deeply entertained the audience with her theory for testing if one was in love ( could you bear to use their toothbrush?).
I also enjoyed the quite simple plot of the play, with the complex thought processes of all the characters interwoven with the rather outrageous goings on in the storyline, such as all the affairs between people and all the insults thrown at one another from Constance and her husband, while one kept their temper and encouraged the other to smash wedding presents as stress therapy.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a rather splendidly written play, and I believe that Salisbury Playhouse did a wonderful job of performing it, and I was extremely impressed. I would definitely recommend one to go and see it, and I look forward to the next production that Salisbury Playhouse put on, as they never fail to entertain. - Charlotte
Whatsonstage.com - Discount London theatre tickets, theatre news and reviews, Theatre videos, Theatre discussion, National Theatre Listings. Covering London's West End, all of Theatreland and all UK theatre. The best
for London Theatre Ticket Discounts.