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The Country Wife (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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William Wycherley's 1675 play is the Royal Exchange's brave choice to open it's new season and it proves a good decision, as it pays divdends to an audience keen for laughs.

The play is a complex mixture of minor plots based around the 17th century fascination with sexual liaisons and the cuckolded husband. The central story is that the rakish Mr Horner gets the rumour spread that, after a trip to France, he has returned an eunuch.

This means that he is deemed 'safe' to be left with local ladies without besmirching their honour. In fact this is a great excuse for him to cuckold their husbands. He is attracted to the 'country wife' of one of his acquaintances but the husband is a jealous man and tries to keep his wife locked up. She however meets Mr Horner and plans to escape her husband and go to her 'gallant'.

Felix Scott as Mr Horner is excellent. He shows the light and shade of the character with great effect. The rest of the cast are equally strong with notable performances by Oliver Gomm as the foppish Mr Sparkish, Amy Morgan as Mrs Pinchwife and Eliza Collings as Alithea. However the outstanding performance is from Nick Fletcher as Mr Pinchwife who shows the dark side of jealousy with such menace that it provides a superb counterpoint to the general lightness of the play.

Director Polly Findlay has taken Wycherley's wordy script and trimmed it to create a wonderful piece of theatre. Her excellent direction is enhanced by the beautiful costumes and Helen Goddard's deceptively simple set design.

Restoration Comedy might not be to everyone's taste, but if you need a beginner's starter, then this is the perfect production to whet your comedic appetite.

- Helen Jones


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