The Country Wife – June 2018

Experience: 6/10

By William Wycherley

Directed by Jonathan Munby

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Tuesday 12th June 2018

We found this performance rather patchy: some scenes worked better than others but although the characters were more clearly identified than in some productions we’ve seen, much of the humour fell a bit flat. It’s still in preview, so the performances will undoubtedly come on, and as we’re seeing it again in a few weeks, we expect to get more out of it then.

We learned a lot about the period of the play and its author during the pre-show talk with Jonathan Munby. I’ll only mention a few points now: Jonathan believes that Horner is isolated at the end of the play, and is aware of that loneliness himself. This wasn’t the play he had originally wanted to do here – he didn’t tell us what the first option had been – but he had been aware of this play for some years and was willing to take it on for this year’s festival. The design was done before rehearsals started, but all the actors had been very keen to do it in modern dress anyway. And one of the characters is more violent and unpleasant than the rest, and can seem out of step because of that.

The set was certainly impressive. A shiny black floor, reminiscent of Quiz, surrounded the inner brick-tiled centre (small wooden bricks, painted black). A wide black leather sofa stood at the back of the thrust with a black coffee table in front of it. There were various objects underneath the table including a bottle of Jack Daniels. A red light sculpture hung above the centre of the stage and a blue standard spotlight stood to the left of the sofa. There was a record player in a black stand front right, with LPs underneath and a black stool to the left. The drinks table was front left with lots of glasses and two bottles of bubbly beside it on the floor, and, as we discovered soon after the start, a fridge underneath.

The back wall had various doorways along its length, with a panel above showing a selection of relevant words: Country, Town, Scandal, Come, Play, Enter, Cuckold, Good, Sir, Honour, Pox, Men, Know. They were in pink and black and an assortment of fonts: later on I realised that the pink was just the lighting they used – when it changed the words were just in black and white – and the words disappeared for some scenes. A brick wall surround framed the back, with a wall light on either side, potentially street lights from the look of them. There were red streamers over the sofa and other signs of party debris – e.g. empty bottles – and there was already a record on the turntable before the start.

As darkness fell on the stage, we heard the sound of modern-day traffic, including a police siren. The lights rose on Horner (Rex Shrapnel) lying on the sofa and waking up with an almighty hangover. His groans of “oh” were amusing, especially the third groan, which was triggered by finding a bottle was nearly empty – we laughed. He went over to the record player, put the needle back to the beginning (remember those days?) and when the music started, the rear doors opened and the cast looked through. Then they came on stage, ignoring Horner who sat on the sofa, and went into a getting-ready-for-going-out dance. The women clustered round Horner, but the men came and took them away.

The country wife of the title, Margery Pinchwife (Susannah Fielding), came on during this, wearing a simple yellow dress and carrying a suitcase. Some of the women on stage had a go at her, but she fended them off and then stood on the table to dance. Her husband (we assumed) dragged her off (the table and the stage) and the others, apart from Horner, left as the music finished.

This is the sort of opening gambit which directors often come up with, especially for older plays such as this one. It probably seems like a good idea – gets the audience in the mood, tells us what the play is about (instead of some boring, hardly intelligible prologue), etc. – but from our perspective, the sooner they get on with the actual play, the better. We don’t know who the characters are at this point – admittedly, Margery was easy to identify this time – so even if the cast all know what they’re trying to convey, it doesn’t necessarily help us to connect with the performance.

The opening scene had the doctor, Quack (Tom Kanji), visiting Horner to report on his success at spreading the (untrue) information that Horner was not able to perform with the ladies. This clever ploy, as Horner explained to the doctor, would ensure easy access to married woman, as their husbands would consider him no threat. To illustrate this, Sir Jasper Fidget (Michael Elwyn), his wife Lady Fidget (Belinda Lang) and his sister Dainty Fidget (Robin Weaver) turned up to pay Horner a visit. Sir Jasper wore old-fashioned plus fours and was a jovial type. His wife wore a grey check trouser suit and looked like an elegant businesswoman, while his sister was dressed in black check trousers and took a distinct liking to Horner.

The dialogue was very clear so far, which helped, and they used the technique of freezing the action and lowering the lights on the rest of the stage for the asides, which worked fine. Once Sir Jasper was satisfied that the rumours were true, and that Horner had no sexual interest in the ladies at all, he insisted on leaving for the “Council” – he had a red box with him – leaving his wife and sister to Horner’s care. They protested, claiming Hprner was “a filthy man”, and soon flounced out together without waiting for their chairs.

Once they were alone, Horner expanded on the benefits of his deception to the doctor, who left just as Horner’s friends arrived. Harcourt (Ashley Zhangazha) and Dorilant (Harry Lawley) were the first to enter, and they indulged in some rather abstruse dialogue about their lifestyles, the benefits of lovers and so on – we got the gist. Their outfits confirmed that the general colour scheme for this production would be black, white and shades of grey, and while that had the advantage of making Margery clearly not part of that world, it did make for a more sombre production that I would have liked.

Another ‘friend’, Sparkish (Scott Karim) was announced by Horner’s servant (Jack North), and before he came up the others had a good bitch about him, letting us know he was the fop of the play. However, when he came in, his clothes weren’t sufficiently different from the rest of the young men to set him apart significantly. Fortunately, Scott Karim was able to do it all with acting, so we were soon enjoying his company, which was more than could be said for the others on stage. They tried to get rid of him by shoving him out of one door, but he promptly came back in by another.

He did eventually leave of his own volition, allowing Mr Pinchwife (John Hodgkinson) to pay a visit. He was dressed as a country gentleman, with a tweed jacket, waistcoat and rubber boots; a tiny hint of colour in this otherwise drab design. The three gallants greeted him as an old friend – which seemed a bit odd given the difference in their ages – but he was so grumpy he was hardly even civil to them. They quizzed him about his new bride, and from his asides it was clear that he was the jealous type, and that the young men would definitely be interested in his wife, if they could get near her.

The banter went on for a while, with plenty of short asides from Pinchwife showing us his increasing agitation at the gallants’ awareness of his wife. Eventually it became too much for him and he left, while the young men finished the scene with a few epithets before the set went into a dance routine of its own. The cast shifted the sofa, record player etc off the stage, dancing all the while, as others waltzed on with the kitchen island, complete with Margery sitting on it, for the next scene. The back wall swung round to give us yet another black wall – only one door this time – and Pinchwife’s sister, Alithea (Jo Herbert) was perched on a padded seat front right, adjusting her makeup.

I didn’t follow all of the dialogue for this scene, but I think I got the main points. Margery, all innocence with a broad country accent, was leafing through what turned out to be a theatre program, and complaining of not being allowed to go out and see the sights of London. She had been taken to a play, and showed her sister-in-law (and us) the pictures of the actors in the program, “the goodliest, properest men”: I reckoned one of them might have been Daniel Craig, but I wasn’t sure.

Alithea had little patience with her, but when Pinchwife arrived, keen to have a nibble of the pizza stashed in the fridge, she took him to task as well, firstly because he criticized her behaviour and then because, in trying to prevent his wife knowing anything about the pleasures of the town, he managed to list each and every one of them. This should have a been a much funnier scene, but for whatever reason, the humour wasn’t coming across.

Sparkish arrived with Harcourt, and Pinchwife chivvied his wife out of the kitchen to prevent her being seen. Then Sparkish, with the same reckless disregard for the consequences, did something very similar to what Pinchwife had done a few minutes earlier – he encouraged his friend to admire his fiancée. Thanks to the long pause, their expressions and a brief change in the lighting, we were well aware that it was love at first sight for Harcourt and Alithea, but Sparkish was completely oblivious, and although Pinchwife made some terse comments about how stupid Sparkish was being (pot, kettle, black, anyone?), I don’t think he’d spotted that the damage was already done.

Sparkish insisted that Harcourt and Alithea huddle in the corner so that his friend could get to know his fiancée better – silly fool – and Pinchwife and he ended up having a tussle which drew them out of the kitchen, allowing the other two to have a private conversation. Alithea, despite being smitten, was determined to keep her word and marry Sparkish, and Harcourt was just as determined to marry her himself.

When Sparkish and Pinchwife came back into the kitchen, Alithea accused Harcourt of making love to her, but Sparkish dismissed it all with a generous helping of “pshaws”. That is, until Alithea grassed up Harcourt as having described Sparkish as “a senseless drivelling idiot”. That upset him, and he looked around for a weapon with which to attack Harcourt. Strangely, there were no knives in this kitchen, but he did manage to find a hand mixer with a very long cord. Switching it on, he came round the kitchen island and brandished it at Harcourt, who fought back hard, but things were looking pretty dicey until Alithea, regretting the trouble she’d caused, went over to the island and took out the plug. This was a very funny section while it lasted – the hand mixer was such an inappropriate choice of weapon. To smooth over Sparkish’s ruffled feathers, Alithea claimed that Harcourt had simply been testing her loyalty to Sparkish, which pleased the young fop tremendously, and he, Harcourt and Alithea were soon off to the play.

During the earlier tussle with Sparkish, Pinchwife had been hit on the head with a frying pan, so when he came back in to the kitchen, he spat out some teeth – eugh. Not popular with the crowd. Lady Fidget, Dainty Fidget and Mrs Squeamish (Natasha Magigi) arrived, keen to take Mrs Pinchwife with them to the play. Pinchwife tried all sorts of excuses to get them to go away without his wife, but they overcame them all, and finally he simply had to leave the room.

There was more music as the set changed again, with just a café table and three chairs to the right of the stage and one door in the back wall. The three women carried on the scene out here, complaining about men but in language I found difficult to follow. I did grasp that Lady Fidget was pleased to realise that an affair with a private man (instead of a man of rank) was effectively no disgrace at all, and it certainly seemed likely that she would be putting that idea into practice as soon as she could.

Her husband turned up with Horner and Dorilant in tow. Being too busy to go to the play with his wife, as usual, he had brought along Horner to keep the ladies company. They reacted with disgust, holding out their fans to ward him off, but Sir Jasper persisted, and finally Horner had a chance to speak a quiet word in Lady Fidget’s ear. A waiter had been in and out a few times during this scene, and chose that time to come and stand between me and Lady Fidget, so I didn’t see her reaction to being told Horner’s little secret – that he wasn’t actually impotent after all. Hopefully next time I’ll get a view of her face.

Regardless, she had completely changed her mind about Horner once he’d finished, and was not only happy to spend time with Horner, but encouraged the other two women to accept his company as well. With that, the set did another little dance, and then we were in a sitting room, with Margery curled up in an armchair in front of a TV set. There was more trouble and strife in the Pinchwife residence, and I’m not using rhyming slang this time. Pinchwife kept having a go at Alithea for unsettling Margery, Alithea responded by pointing out that Margery’s dissatisfaction was entirely his own fault, while Margery reckoned she’d been upset ever since she found out – because Pinchwife told her – that a gallant who had seen her at the play was in love with her. She nagged Pinchwife about going out and finally he relented, but insisted she go in disguise. The idea of a mask was rejected as simply creating curiosity, but then he had the idea of dressing her as a boy – they had a suit of clothes for her little brother – so off they went.

The next scene was set in Soho. The back wall was swung round again, and over each of the three doors was an appropriate sign – didn’t take any notes. The coffee wagon we’d seen outside in the foyer was cycled in and parked back right, while the rear wall was slanted back to the right to give a bit more room. Horner arrived with Dorilant and Harcourt, and again the language was a bit difficult to follow. Harcourt asked Horner for help to take Alithea from Sparkish, and Horner told him to use Sparkish himself – all the more fun. To be fair, Sparkish was already doing his best to help Harcourt, having left him alone with Alithea at the play.

Pinchwife turned up with Alithea and a ‘young boy’ in school uniform, accompanied by Lucy (Charlotte Mills), Alithea’s maid. The text was heavily edited for this section – no reference to plays that I remember – but we got the general sense of Margery enjoying herself as she took in all the new and wonderful things there were to see. After various comings and goings, Harcourt, Sparkish and Alithea were left alone together on stage. Harcourt kept insulting Sparkish and praising himself, making use of the way they were standing to indicate Sparkish when he talked of a fool, and himself when he spoke of the man who loved Alithea. She tried to tell Sparkish what was going on, but he ‘pshawed’ away all her objections. Pinchwife re-entered with his wife towards the end of this conversation, and was critical of Sparkish’s casual attitude. He also warned Harcourt to stay away, given that Alithea was still his responsibility until her wedding the next day.

With Sparkish off, Horner and Dorilant came back. Pinchwife tried to avoid the gallants, but it’s a small stage and there was little chance of that. He grew increasingly desperate during this section: at first he was unable to control Margery, and prevent her from seeing all the things he didn’t want her to see, and then he couldn’t stop Horner and his friends from taking liberties with his wife due to the very disguise which he, Pinchwife, had insisted she wear. Horner had, of course, identified Margery immediately, and under the pretext of complimenting the young lad on looking so like his sister, he gave her a kiss on his sister’s behalf. She didn’t complain, nor when Dorilant and Harcourt took their turn, and when Pinchwife’s back was briefly turned, Horner took the ‘young lad’ off stage. Alithea and Lucy protested, but Harcourt and Dorilant prevented them from following – Dorilant had taken quite a fancy to Lucy – so when Pinchwife returned his wife had simply vanished.

After running off to look for her, he returned in despair of finding her again, but then she came back on carrying an Ann Summers bag over her arm and some oranges. Horner was with her, and playfully taunted Pinchwife until Sir Jasper turned up and took him away for dinner with his family. Harcourt and Dorilant said their farewells too – Dorilant got a custard pie in the face from Lucy – and Pinchwife was left alone on stage for the final lines of the act. As he said them, Horner appeared in the middle door at the back, with a devilish smirk on his face. He looked straight at Pinchwife, who threw the orange in his hand at him. Horner was quick to respond, and stepped back, closing the door so that the orange bounced off it. Lights. Interval.

They cleared the stage during the interval – coffee cart off, signs down – and the second half began with Horner’s servant singing a song. I didn’t catch the words, but as he sang, the rest of the cast formed up around him and did another version of their preening dance from the first half, followed by a lot of scratching. The group broke up, and there were lots of pairings in doorways and around the stage. I quite enjoyed the singing, but Steve found it boring and would be quite happy if they cut this bit.

At the end of the song, the wall came back round to level, and they brought on a dressing table (no mirror) and seat front and centre, plus a cheval mirror on the right. It was the morning of Alithea’s wedding. She was getting dressed with Lucy’s help, and the pair were arguing about whether or not Alithea should marry Sparkish or ditch him and marry Harcourt instead. Lucy was all for Harcourt, but Alithea was stubborn: she’d given her word to Sparkish and wouldn’t back out now. Besides, Sparkish’s behaviour showed he wasn’t jealous, and Alithea preferred to have a husband without jealousy, as he would allow her greater freedom.

When Sparkish turned up he had brought a chaplain with him, and it was immediately obvious to everyone but Sparkish himself that the chaplain was Harcourt in a dark robe and beard. When Alithea pointed this out, Sparkish insisted that this was Harcourt’s twin brother Ned, in holy orders, and finally suggested that Lucy check him out. This she did, and got a large wad of money from Harcourt to confirm that he was, indeed, a chaplain. Alithea fell on the floor in her frustration at Sparkish’s gullibility, but was eventually taken off to church to be married (although as Harcourt wasn’t really a chaplain the marriage wouldn’t be valid).

The furniture was removed and a double bed brought on, all by the dancing cast as usual. Margery was sitting on the bed in yellow leggings and a top, and there was a large white teddy bear on the bed with her. Pinchwife was there as well, looking very glum. He questioned Margery about the time she had been alone with Horner, and although nothing much had happened, he was convinced she would be doing more with the man if she got half a chance. He ordered her to get writing materials from the next room, and told her to write a letter to his dictation. She resisted at first, insisting that letters were only written between the town and the country, not within the town itself, but was satisfied when he said it was fine “when your husband bids you”.

She also quibbled about what she should write, and that was when Pinchwife threatened to cut her face if she didn’t do as she was told. This sudden shift into a darker, more menacing tone jarred with the rest of the staging, and the rest of the scene lost a lot of the humour because of it. With the letter of rejection written, Pinchwife went off to find the seal, giving Margery time to write a completely different letter to Master Horner – thanks to Pinchwife’s indiscretion, she now knew her gallant’s name! When he came back with the seals – a page of sticky labels – she was able to swap the letters so that Horner would get a much friendlier message than her husband intended.

Back in Horner’s rooms, the doctor had arrived for an update on the situation. Horner was getting changed after a workout, from the looks of things, and stood behind a screen back left to get dressed. He also drank a raw egg with tabasco before settling down to expound on the success of his exploit. Lady Fidget arrived, and Horner suggested the doctor hide behind the screen to see for himself how the lie he had put about on Horner’s behalf had provided his patient with easy access to the ladies of honour about the town.

This the doctor did, and he was waiting behind there for quite some time. First Lady Fidget sat on the sofa for a while, trying to persuade Horner to keep his secret between them, and not mention it to anyone else. They were just starting to get physical when Sir Jasper arrived, and was so confident about Horner’s inability to have sex that he was easily reassured that nothing had been going on. Lady Fidget used the excuse of wanting to see Horner’s china collection to rush off to his bedroom and lock the door, giving Horner the opportunity to declare that he would “get into her the back way”.

After he left the stage, Squeamish entered, dressed in a black coat. She was also keen to see Horner’s ‘china’ from the sounds of things – and there were plenty of sounds coming from Horner’s bedroom by now – but couldn’t get in the door, so left to find another way in. Dainty Fidget also tuned up, also dressed in a black coat, and presumably also looking for ‘china’. Squeamish returned just before Lady Fidget came out of Horner’s room carrying a tall, phallic-shaped piece of china, which was sadly the last piece Horner had, leaving him unable to satisfy the other two women.

Pinchwife’s arrival had all of these guests scuttling away as quickly as possible. He delivered Margery’s letter to Horner, who was understandably surprised when he read it. He took an early opportunity to read aloud Margery’s postscript, which revealed that her husband knew nothing about the contents, and asked Horner not to tell him in case Pinchwife “should come home and pinch me, or kill my squirrel”(!?). I wasn’t sure I’d heard it correctly, but the text confirmed the word. It’s a strange thing to be concerned about, and the line passed without any reaction, on stage or off.

After a brief stint alone with the doctor, when he and Horner marvelled at how easy it was to fool Pinchwife, the man himself returned with Sparkish, who was determined to invite Horner to his wedding feast and was equally determined that his new brother-in-law should attend as well. Pinchwife agreed to come to dinner and then left. Despite a mention of the wedding not being valid, Horner expressed his condolences to Sparkish as if it had been completely genuine, though his regret was that Harcourt had missed out. Sparkish picked up on something Horner said to discover that he had a rival in love, and, in his exuberantly silly way, was pleased at the prospect. He insisted that Horner come and dine with him, but Horner held out for a promise that Sparkish would get Pinchwife to bring Margery as well. Sparkish agreed, and they left together.

Back in Margery’s bedroom, she was on her bed, writing another letter to Horner when her husband came in. He snuck up on her and grabbed the letter, reading it out loud. It was pretty damning, and as she only had a few words left to write, Pinchwife demanded that she finish it now. Thinking quickly, she added Alithea’s name at the end, pretending that she’d written the letter at Alithea’s request for various reasons which I won’t go into now. Frankly, her brainpower seemed to have improved enormously since Horner kissed her, because when Pinchwife wanted to talk to his sister, Margery, possibly with Lucy’s help, came up with a plan: she, Margery, would disguise herself as Alithea, and get Pinchwife himself to take her to Horner’s place for an assignation, under the pretext of Alithea wanting to talk to Horner.

We had noticed Alithea’s unusual hairstyle from the start: she had a swathe of white hair which swirled through the black – most unusual. Now it became clear why this had been done. Margery simply had to put on a matching wig, one of Alithea’s dresses, dark sunglasses and a pair of high-heeled shoes, and she had a passing resemblance to her sister-in-law. Given that she’d insisted on the room being in darkness and Alithea not talking to her brother (the usual precautions) it was believable that Pinchwife didn’t recognise the substitution, and he happily led her off to Horner’s place.

Pinchwife led Margery in to Horner’s room, and she soon disappeared into the bedroom, while Sir Jasper turned up to let Horner know that Lady Fidget and some of her friends would be coming along later in fancy dress for a party – he, Sir Jasper, would provide the food and drink. Some rows of lights were lowered down for the coming party, and the wall at the back was moved to its slanting position, to indicate that the next scene was out on the street. Pinchwife met Sparkish and showed him the letter which he believed Alithea had written to Horner. Sparkish was finally incensed with her and was going to Horner’s place to have it out with her, but just then saw her down the street. Naturally he started to insult her, and she, having no knowledge of what was going on, realised that her fiancé could, in fact, be jealous. He tried to get her ring off to throw it at her, but it wouldn’t budge so all he could do was flounce off in a temper. She took his ring off, no problem, realising that she was now free to marry Harcourt.

Back at Horner’s place, he was just coming out of his bedroom when the three ladies arrived. They had black masks on their faces and wore inside-out period dress, with black hoops outside the large skirts of their white dresses. I found it hard to follow all the dialogue for this bit – probably tiredness – but Sir Jasper arrived as well and then this group left when Pinchwife and his entourage was announced.

Horner tried to persuade Margery to leave so that her reputation might be maintained, but she refused, thinking that she would be living with Horner now. He bustled her into the bedroom again just before Pinchwife, Alithea, Sparkish, Harcourt and Lucy entered. To preserve Margery’s honour (not that she had any by now, it’s more a case of protecting his reputation) Horner pretended that Alithea was, indeed, the woman whom Pinchwife had escorted to his rooms earlier. She protested and things grew heated, and when Pinchwife threatened Horner, Margery came out of the bedroom to great amazement. Sparkish was convinced that Alithea had been disloyal to him, but Harcourt stood by her, challenging Horner to admit he had lied.

Sir Jasper and the ladies also came back, so the stage was pretty crowded when Lucy, the maid, tried to resolve all the problems. Standing on the sofa, she explained that the whole series of events had been a ploy on her part to break up Sparkish and Alithea, so that her mistress could marry Harcourt, implying along the way that Margery had been an innocent party in the whole affair. Unfortunately, Margery’s wits didn’t extend to going along with the lie, and she insisted that she loved Horner and wanted to marry him instead of her husband.

Just then the doctor and Dorilant arrived, and the doctor was quick to confirm the story about Horner being a eunuch. With Sir Jasper accepting it, and three of the ladies eager to support the rumour to their own benefit, Pinchwife was eventually persuaded, albeit reluctantly, to accept this story and pardon his wife. She, on the other hand, was looking more and more unhappy with this turn of events, and was about to tell all again, but first Lucy and then some of the other women got hold of her and almost smothered her to stop her talking.

With everyone (almost) happy again, even Margery agreed to tell a lie to please her husband, and then they went into a dance. Paired up at first, they soon broke into a general group, leaving Margery on her own – she wandered away to the back of the stage, looking unhappy and a bit lost. The others were having a good time, throwing a horned cap around which ended up on Pinchwife’s head when the music stopped. The rest of the cast finally danced their way off with Horner sprawled in the sofa as he had been at the start – they’d added streamers to the mix so the set looked much as it had at the beginning. He sat on the sofa as he spoke the final lines, which Jonathan had maintained earlier showed that he was cut off from the rest of society and knew it, a more downbeat ending than usual. However, neither Steve nor I got that impression. The lines themselves seemed to confirm that Horner’s tactic had been a success, and that he was entirely satisfied with the way things had gone. (Perhaps this is a case of too much #Metoo?) To finish, Horner raised the bottle and drank, then put the needle back to the start of the record, and as the music kicked in the rest of the cast looked through the doors at the back. Lights.

We’d enjoyed this well enough, and although there had been a few empty seats after the interval, the rest of the audience gave a medium-level response to the cast. Some of the actors didn’t look too happy as they took their bows, although that doesn’t always signify much – some actors take a while to get over whatever emotions have been going on at the end of a play, often looking glum for the first set of bows and much happier when they come on again. Tonight there was just one set of bows anyway, and given that this was preview, we would expect the performances to come on before we see it again.

We weren’t entirely taken with the design of the play – it seemed very dark and sombre, and while we identified the characters well enough we both felt the production lacked a bit of sparkle. Perhaps that will change, perhaps not. I should also mention that I wasn’t as clear about some of the dialogue and storyline as these notes suggest: I got the characters’ names from the program, and used a text to help me through the order of events, but I did get the gist of what was going on. The dialogue was clearly delivered for the most part, but it is tricky language, even for experienced playgoers like ourselves, and a second viewing will undoubtedly help.

I have read and heard various other people comment that the updating of a play to ensure that the audience ‘gets’ the connections with today’s events reduces their enjoyment: they would rather see a performance in period costume which allows them, as individuals, to grasp and appreciate the resonances with our own times for themselves. While I agree with this point of view entirely, I also acknowledge that some plays have outdated aspects – in their language, for example – which make it necessary to change words, edit lines, and perhaps use a more contemporary time period to get across some of the points which the play is making.

Seeing this performance led to me pondering the subject again, and the concept of resonance meshed with my love of folk music to give me a new perspective. Fiddles and guitars are designed to resonate: the sound box is ‘excited’ by the vibration of the strings to produce some absolutely beautiful sounds (in the hands of a competent musician). The sound box can also be tapped, and the result is usually a dull thunk, although modern technologies do allow musicians to add percussion to the mix when they tap the box – another string to their bow, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The analogy I’m making is that to simply hit the resonator – the sound box – produces a sound, but not a great one. Using the instrument as it’s designed to be used, by letting the vibration of the strings unleash the instrument’s full potential, creates a sound which is much richer and much more pleasurable to listen to. In terms of the theatre, the audience is the sound box, or rather a collection of sound boxes. Poke us directly, and you’ll get a response. But allow us to tune in to the vibration of the production, and we will resonate with it to achieve a far higher degree of satisfaction for all parties.

The crucial aspect here is the ability of the audience to tune in and be affected by the production’s ‘vibrations’. Different audience members, regardless of age, experience or any other factor will respond to different approaches, which is all well and good. The challenge is to find a way of delivering the story which works for the greatest number, ideally, and from our recent experiences, that’s a challenge which isn’t being fully addressed by some of the newer kids on the block. That’s how I see things at the moment – I’ll leave the idea to simmer for a while and see how it develops.

© 2018 Sheila Evans at

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