SIR JOHN Vanbrugh was a talented individual. An architect of renown, he designed Blenheim Palace and Grimesthorpe Castle (amongst others), properties that today stand testament to his incredible eye.
Yet he was also a writer of two plays, The Relapse (1696) and The Provoked Wife (1697), which to this day are still held up as shining examples of restoration theatre – theatre that was breathing again after being banned under Puritan rule.
Marooned Theatre, a young London based theatre group, together with Anita Creed, have ambitiously updated The Provoked Wife in a production now playing at The Hope Theatre in London’s Highbury (until September 23). Move over 1697, hello 2017. Hi to iPads, glow sticks and selfies galore. Only the language stays in the seventeenth century.
It works (just), primarily because of the young and talented cast who bring an exuberance and energy to the play that you cannot fail to admire. Talent that will surely ensure most of the cast have a long theatrical career ahead of them.
The play jars, primarily because at its core is the repugnant Sir John Brute, played by an excellent Will Kelly. He is a vile individual whose every word makes you cringe.
Although he has only been married two years, he calls his wife (a tender Meg Coombs) a slut, is happy to go to bed with whores and drinks like a fish. He is a repulsive misogynist – and it is all rather discomforting to watch. I wanted him to die of his sins from almost the word go, a request sadly denied.
Into the mix are thrown Heartfree and Constant, two young men played by Tim Gibson and Will Hearle respectively (both rather dishy). Initially, Heartfree lives up to his name but is soon mesmerised by Belinda (Claudia Campbell), Lady Brute’s cousin. Constant only has eyes for Lady Brute and despises the way Sir John treats her (no surprises there).
Completing the jigsaw are Lady Fanciful (played with real panache by Jessie Lilley), a mischievous and vain woman who loves herself and her selfies – and Mademoiselle, her even more bonkers companion. Mademoiselle (Sophie Alexander) spits, mumbles and snarls while enjoying a relationship with Lovewell (Conor Cook) who spends most of his time serving up the champagne that enables Sir John to get rampagingly drunk.
It is all rather chaotic with the cast exiting through the theatre’s doors only to reappear minutes later through the stage entrance. Revolving doors.
The props – apart from Mademoiselle’s iPad, Lady Fanciful’s phone and Sir John’s champagne bottles – are as sparse as Sir John’s compassion. This puts the emphasis on the cast who through a mix of enthusiasm and skill pull it off.
Hats off to producer Anita Creed who has enjoyed recent success with Incident at Vichy at the Finborough (see review) and to director Hannah Boland Moore who has made the play work in the confines and sparseness of The Hope.
Not an easy play to watch. But in Gibson, Hearle, Kelly and the exceptional Lilley, I think we are seeing stars of the future. Look out for them. One is bound to shine long into the future.
If you are provoked into watching the play by this review (The Hope is a great fringe theatre close to Highbury & Islington tube station), you have just two chances to see it. Provoked Wife is a play, theatre and theatre group deserving of support.
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Mademoiselle: Sophie Alexandar
Belinda: Claudia Campbell
Lovewell: Conor Cook
Lady Brute: Meg Coombs
Heartfree: Tim Gibson
Constant: Will Hearle
Sir John Brute: Will Kelly
Lady Fanciful: Jessie Lilley
Director: Hannah Boland Moore
Producer: Anita Creed