Thursday, 26 April 2018

Maugham’s freedom fable still pricks pomposity

WRITTEN by W Somerset Maugham in 1926, The Constant Wife was no doubt shocking in its day and will still get plenty of tongues wagging

WRITTEN by W Somerset Maugham in 1926, The Constant Wife was no doubt shocking in its day and will still get plenty of tongues wagging.

The current production by the Henley Players is blessed to have Gráinne Harling as Constance Middleton in the lead, for it is she who is the still voice of calm in the midst of the threat of chaos.

Gráinne holds the production together, as indeed her character holds her marriage together — and on her own terms.

Men do not fare well in this play, and don’t all we good feminists long to prick their pompous, self-satisfied self-importance. Constance does just that — and with such cool elegance.



WRITTEN by W Somerset Maugham in 1926, The Constant Wife was no doubt shocking in its day and will still get plenty of tongues wagging.

The current production by the Henley Players is blessed to have Gráinne Harling as Constance Middleton in the lead, for it is she who is the still voice of calm in the midst of the threat of chaos.

Gráinne holds the production together, as indeed her character holds her marriage together — and on her own terms.

Men do not fare well in this play, and don’t all we good feminists long to prick their pompous, self-satisfied self-importance. Constance does just that — and with such cool elegance.



The plot, essentially, is a husband having an affair, “good” friends all desperate to enlighten his wife for their own reasons but, as is often the case, the wife is all too well informed already.

Rather than allow the affair to destroy her, she uses it as her stepping stone to freedom — not freedom from her marriage but a step towards her own economic and emotional freedom, the only true freedoms in her world.

Ideas quite shocking to the Twenties middle classes and good fodder for many a dinner party “discussion” today.

Sweeping things under the rug may have been the order of the day, but that is not the message of the play.

Constance unrolls the rug and lets everyone else trip themselves up on it.

Fine performances also come from Sally Rowlandson as Marie-Louise, the silly, fluffy, flirty mistress — not one to learn from her mistakes; Lucy Baker as Martha, the sour spinster sister who believes in truth at any price and with whatever pain; Tim Harling as the adulterous husband, John Middleton; Adam Brimley as the furious cuckolded husband who gives an excellent, if brief, performance; and Andy Marlow as the ever-devoted labrador of a one-time boyfriend.

Constance makes fools of them all in her own cool and elegant way.

In the Twenties the play was seen as subversive. Today the arguments seem sensible. And many an argument is presented.

To wit, when you are no longer in love with each other, is marriage anything more than a form of prostitution? How can a woman address this and retain her self respect?

Why be angry about an affair? (“You can’t make yesterday’s mutton into tomorrow’s lamb cutlets.”)

Why destroy your marriage and comfortable way of life because a husband takes a mistress?

Why? How? What to do? Each character has a different solution, as one would expect from a master playwright such as Maugham, but it is Constance who makes surprising decisions, regardless of them all — and shows the men for the shams they truly are in the process.

If this makes it sound like an angry play, not so. It is neither bitter nor angry (despite some wonderfully cutting repartee).

If it makes it sound argumentative, not so. This Henley Players production promises an entertaining, thought-provoking evening.

This was only the dress rehearsal: the cast will raise their game with an appreciative, involved audience. That’s you. Be there — it’s a play and a production not to be missed.

Until Saturday.

Review: Bridget Fraser



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