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Wife Begins at Forty (Guildford, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Set in a suburban home in 1985, Wife Begins at Forty centres around Linda and George Harper who are fast approaching their 17th wedding anniversary. Bored with their routine and lack of sex life, Linda decides to leave George and start again – while trying to juggle her doddering father-in-law, teenage son and barmy neighbours. Although humorous, the play bills itself as a farce rather than the gentle comedy that it is and so falls flat as far as inducing any belly-aching laughs is concerned.

The problem with farce for me is that it can often feel as though the first act is simply there to set up the dominoes that will inevitably fall in the second. A little drab to begin with, the action (and audience’s interest) really gets going in the second act during a booze-filled meeting on Christmas Eve. As soon as the first drop of whisky hits the glass, the laughs start to pour. Brian Godfrey’s direction means that at times it does feel like laugh-by-numbers, but there are odd flashes of physical comedy gold from Mark Curry and Godfrey himself.

Vicki Michelle has fun with the role of Linda; a character who clearly just finished reading The Female Eunuch and has suddenly decided to pull a Shirley Valentine. Mark Curry is a little more relatable as Linda’s stick-in-the-mud husband George and makes an excellent foil for the other barmy characters surrounding him. Royce Mills gives a charming performance as George’s elderly father Bernard and the audience titters at his bumbling forgetfulness and long-winded stories.

Julie Godfrey’s set provides a lovely backdrop to the action and everything from the peach carpet to the argued over curtains is the height of 1980s style. It is nice to see a set actually being used and the actors inhabit the space naturally, although one can’t help but worry the dog will get a case of stage-fright and ruin the suburban dream.

Wife Begins at Forty is enjoyable enough, but feels slightly like a faded sitcom from the 80s that is being repeated on Gold at 4pm on a rainy Tuesday. The slightly-older audience at the performance I saw seem to enjoy, it and may find the jokes and characters something to which it could relate but, for anyone under 30, it’s as if you’ve walked in on your parents’ friends on their third glass of Chardonnay.


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