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The Provok’d Wife


Sunday Telegraph 13th July 1997, John Gross


At the Old Vic, Peter Hall’s repertory company are presenting an interesting and broadly successful production of Sir John Vanbrugh’s Restoration comedy The Provok’d Wife, directed by Lindsay Posner. It is Restoration in kind, though hardly in date: it was first produced as late as 1697, and the version being used is the 1726 version, in which the drunken Sir John Brute masquerades as his own wife. (In the original it was as a clergyman).


It is odd to think that in the 18th century David Garrick invested Brute with a certain charm. To modern tastes he is the husband from hell, which is how Michael Pennington plays him – scruffy-haired, leering, diseased-looking (though it is a subtle performance that also allows for a certain amount of pathos and a good deal of self-pity).


No one else in the cast quite measures up to Pennington; no one else brings out the comedy quite as deftly as he does at his best – in the passages, for example, where he describes how a lady of leisure fritters away her day. The production could be – should be- much funnier. But there are brisk contributions from, among others, Clare Swinburne and Stephen Noonan: the dramatic vigour of the piece comes across, and so does Vanbrugh’s gift for easy natural dialogue.







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