THE CONSTANT WIFE
Apollo Theatre, London W1
Opened 11 April, 2002

*** Almost, but not quite, radical 1920s drawing-room comedy

Somerset Maugham's play is a bit of a cheat, but it has aged better than you might expect and is given a fine production by Edward Hall.

When Constance Middleton is forced to acknowledge publicly what she has known in private for some time her husband's affair with her best friend she scandalises her family and intimate social circle by standing by them both... at least, until she has been in business long enough to assert her economic and thus sexual independence.

It's a kind of A Room Of One's Own argument, forcefully worded in terms of wives prostituting themselves to husbands who buy their loyalty. But this is, in the end, a man's view of female liberation: a husband might declare the situation to be intolerable, but it never quite is too much for him. What is principally being attacked are the double standards about adultery concerning men and women, and the responses of Constance's almost entirely female set to her stance.

As Constance, Jenny Seagrove shows both thought and technical precision, but seldom sparks. Linda Thorson and Serena Evans as her mother and sister are a fine pair of bourgeois predators in their distinct ways and Steven Pacey excellent as the feckless husband, though Sara Crowe is on automatic as the blonde mistress. And there's life in the old play yet.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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