The Country Wife (Hostry Festival – Norwich)

Wycherley’s 1675 comedy is surely the epitome of what we mean by Restoration theatre – satirical, bawdy and ostensibly without a heart. let alone morals.

Norwich Cathedral & Hostry
Norwich Cathedral & Hostry
© Fran Currie

What does a man-about-town do for female solace when every canny husband of his acquaintance makes sure to keep him well away from his wife or daughters and those ladies with a care for the fragility of their reputations also keep him many petticoat layers apart?

Horner (Evan Ryder) thinks he has the solution. It is to make sure that his doctor (the so-appropriately named Quack) spreads the news that a recent sojourn in France has let to his complete impotence. The inference is that he sought a cure for a venereal disease and this is the tragic (for Horner) result.

Needless to say, Horner's fellow roués can't help gloating, just a little bit. But Sir Jasper Fidget falls for the device, as do his wife and sister as well as their friend Mistress Squeamish. New to the town is the curmudgeonly Pinchwife and his fresh new bride, the titular country wife.

Peter Beck's production is fast-moving with a box set by Lucia Thompson which fades from the Palladian buildings of Covent Garden into an all-purpose reception room. Margery Pinchwife is, of course, a peach of a part and Jo Reil makes the most of it – roguishly demure yet with a puppy-like appetite for new experiences.

Rebecca Aldred makes Alithea, Pinchbeck's sister, into much more than just the sub-plot heroine. While her preferred husband Harcourt (Robin Watson) is perhaps not completely the man she hopes he might be, he's certainly an improvement on her brother's choice for her mate, Sparkish (Jonathan Massey).

There's a neat characterisation of the ladies' maid Lucy by Moira Hickson and Harriet Waterhouse's Lady Fidget is a worthy leader of her tinkling coven – you feel that they are all quite willing to let their ringlets tumble and raise their petticoats – provided they can emerge from the encounter perfectly soignée.

The Country Wife plays at the Hostry, Norwich Cathedral until 1 November.