|The Country Wife|
You can see The Country Wife at the Watford Palace Theatre, Clarendon Road, Watford from 8-30 October 2004.
Wed mats (20 & 27 October) 2.30pm
Sat mats (16, 23 & 30 October) 3.00pm
Box Office: 01923 225671
USE THE LINK ON THE RIGHT TO WIN TICKETS!
Lustful behaviour, adultery and promiscuous living (right – got your attention then!). Deception, disguise and double standards. These themes were all the stuff of Restoration comedy, so it should be easy to see how well the stories told by men in tights and women with big dresses can translate into a modern day setting.
And this is exactly what the award-winning stage and screen playwright Tanika Gupta has done. Renowned for her adaptations of classic writing, such as Hobson’s Choice at the Young Vic last year, this production of The Country Wife is all set to be William Wycherley as you’ve never seen him before, with the classic Resoration comedy being transferred to a modern Asian setting.
It is therefore appropriate that this play is the one that will celebrate the re-opening of the Watford Palace, because it is in keeping with the vision of its Artistic Director, and the director of this production, Lawrence Till.
In an interview this summer, he told me that he wanted a theatre that produced new work, gave old plays a modern spin and presented productions that would be exciting and relevant to young people as well as reflecting the cultural diversity of the region.
So how is The Country Wife achieving that?
|Mark Monero rehearses The Country Wife|
Mark Monero will be familiar to many after a seven year stint in EastEnders as chef Steve, and appearing as Linda’s long lost son in the now cult comedy Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.
He plays Jazzy in this production and says that while the play has stemmed from Restoration comedy, this is a production that people will really relate to today as the themes in the 1675 version are still recognisable.
“It will be relevant to a modern audience - both young and old” he says. “There’s something in there for every one definitely!”
“Basically, it’s about betrayal, love and mistaken identity” he continues. “The main character, called Hardeep, has made a vow of celibacy and says he won’t have anything to do with women, just so that he can have dodgy little affairs with them!
“He’s put round a rumour that he’s not having any sex any more so that men will trust him in the company of their wives, but really he’s having an affair with his best friend’s wife (Preethi – the naive country wife) and says he wants to marry her.
|"I don’t believe you could get away with that in real life! You could pretend you were gay though- that might work!"|
“Then Hardeep’s cousin wants to marry this other woman, and she wears a disguise and pretends she’s a schoolboy but really the gang know that she’s a woman” he adds.
Confused yet? I was! Mark laughs:
“Yes, it’s quite mad” he says. “It’s farcical and there are a lot of twists and turns!
“I haven’t got my head around the whole thing yet myself. There are so many different sub plots going backwards and forwards, but it’s really interesting.”
But those who know the original will recognise the story of the appropriately named Horner who woos his friend’s spouse, Margery Pinchwife (Yes – the clues are everywhere!) by pretending he is celibate.
It’s all a lot of fun, but is this a realistic proposition? When I ask him if the celibacy ruse is something he’s tried, he admits that it’s not a pulling device he’s ever employed!
“No - not at all” he laughs.
“It’s very interesting but I haven’t tried that one before” he admits. “But it seems to work in the play!
|The Country Wife in rehearsal|
“I don’t want to give away the ending but it seems to work for Hardeep for a while, but I don’t believe you could get away with that in real life! You could pretend you were gay though- that might work!”
Luckily, the characters and situations aren’t supposed to be realistic. Wycherley used stereotypical characters to explore situations and relationships rather than the inner self and in Mark’s character Jazzy, Gupta has followed his lead.
“Yes, he’s a larger than life caricature” laughs Mark. “He’s the local gangster and is not unlike a pimp!
“He wants to be a politician, does dodgy deals with cars and is very misogynistic - your archetypal gangster” he continues and goes onto explain that it is the job of his character to try and foil Hardeep’s ruse.
“I’ve got these two gangsters molls with me and I say that I want Hardeep to look after them” he says.
|The new light sculpture at Watford Palace|
“But really Jazzy is testing him to see if the rumour is true, so he let’s these girls hang around with him and the two dolly birds try and tempt him.”
The new spin on the play is that it has been put into an Asian context in an attempt to tell the story for a contemporary audience and reflect the diversity of today’s society. It may be a bit of an anarchic romp but as Mark explains, it has its serious side too, taking a look at love and marriage.
“It deals with betrayal and marrying the wrong person and stuff like that” he explains.
“There are also race issues” he continues. “There’s a character in it who doesn’t want his sister to marry a black guy who is a really nice person, and then there’s an Indian guy who’s married but has got another woman on the side. There are a lot of moral questions in it but it’s not heavy. It’s all done in a light way.”
Putting Restoration themes into an Asian context may sound very strange on the face of it, but it’s actually a master stroke from Gupta.
In the original, the main character pretends to be celibate but was actually very promiscuous. These licentious stereotypes known as libertines, went against what society was like at the time. Under these moral restrictions, a character could come into the play and, on the stage, smash them.
|Inside the new Watford Palace Theatre|
So the context that Gupta has found is identical to that found in the Wycherley play. The restrictive nature of religious beliefs is exactly the same. Then a central character comes in and says that people don't need to be like this anymore, and that women can be liberated, by everybody following their natural passions.
As Lawrence Till explained. “It's a series of 20-something young people falling in and out of love and trying to get one over on their mates! You just have to have an equivalent that makes sense to people now.”
And if this sounds a bit heavy, there’s no need to worry because Mark assures us that it’s still a comedy!
“Oh yes” says Mark. “It’s very, very funny and very raucous. There are a lot of good characters in it, plus songs and dancing, the whole shebang. There’s also a bit of Bollywood and bit of Carry On film in it. It’s fun to do as well!
And it was this element of fun that attracted Mark to the play in the first place.
“The last few plays that I’ve done have been really serious” he explains. They were two handers, just me and someone else with a massive script learning massive passages.
“But this is a cast of ten and it’s just fun to interact with other people. And I’m not on all the time so I can have a little rest in the dressing room!”
Mark also says that he’s enjoying working in the new theatre.
“It’s just lovely isn’t it” he says enthusiastically. “I’ve never worked in a theatre that’s fresh out of the packet before! It’s nice to be here and it’s also good because everybody else is new as well.”
But he’s not certain what to make of what is sure to be one of the major talking points of the new building – the light sculptures.
“I don’t know about the dodgy neon lights in the auditorium” he says. “It’s supposed to be a chandelier – but I don’t know!”
Mark has certainly worked in a lot of theatres in his time, but he has also done a lot of radio and TV. Most recently he was in Romeo and Juliet on Radio Three and before that he played a prison officer in Judge John Deed, which he describes as ‘very moody’.
|Mark Monero as Steve in EastEnders|
And moody isn’t too far away from Steve, the chef he played for seven years in EastEnders. Apart from the fact that he wasn’t killed off, which always means there’s a way back (well there’s a way back even if you are killed come to think of it!) Mark can’t remember where he was sent, but in true ‘boy style’, he can recall that he left, not in the usual black cab, but in a very nice car!
“I drove off into the darkness” he says. “I can’t remember why now, but they gave me a really nice car to drive off in. It was a Mercedes, a lovely old classic merc. It was really nice” he says wistfully. “I suppose that leaves it a bit open ended. I could come back - or maybe not!”
Of course, everybody knows that EastEnders has taken a bit of a battering in past weeks. Executive Producer Louise Berridge left recently and one of the problems she had had was taking a lot of stick over the storylines for the Ferreira family.
It is thought that this Asian family has never really been integrated into the soap successfully, so I asked Mark as a black actor, what he thought of EastEnders’ ability to manage ethnic storylines.
|Mark with Michele Gayle in EastEnders|
“I don’t know why, but they don’t seem to do them properly” he admits, before giving an insight into how he dealt with the situation.
“When I went in there, I didn’t have a family so my character was very transient. I therefore tried my best not to stick to any kind of stereotypes, except the fact that Steve was a Cockney.
“He was in EastEnders and he lived in the East End. It just so happened that he was black” he continues.
“I tried not to make it a big deal so after a while they [the producers] let me have that freedom.”
In this, Mark makes a very good point. His character lived its life and had its storylines and it didn’t matter what colour he was, but he also concedes that soap isn’t really reality anyway!
“I could have been white, I could have been Indian – anything” he continues. “It just seems that when they put in an ethnic family, be it Asian, Turkish or black there’s always a little bit of unreality to it.
“But it would be the same if they were Scottish. A Scot could watch it and they’d think that’s nothing to do with what they’re like. People said the same about Brookside, where a lot of Liverpudlians said that’s nothing like Liverpool.
“But it’s basically just dramatised gossip isn’t it” he says. “That’s why we like it!”
Away from serious discussion for a moment we move to the other end of the scale – the classic comedy Gimme, Gimme, Gimme – in which Mark played the long lost son of Linda, played by Kathy Burke.
“Ah - I loved that!!” he recalls, his eyes lighting up.
|Mark with Kathy Burke in Gimme, Gimme, Gimme|
“It was so hard to do because I was just laughing my head off all the time. Those two [Burke and James Dreyfus) just didn’t stop! It was really hard but fun! She [Burke] is just a scream, she’s mad, it was excellent!”
And for those who remember it, do you also know that some of the scenes took place in Watford?
“When we went shopping in the show, we filmed it up Watford High Street” explains Mark. I bought her a massive bra in the Help the Aged shop!”
Getting back to The Country Wife for a bit, Mark reveals a new challenge for him that the play has presented. And that’s ballet!
“It’s something we have to do at the end because the three of us with the evil parts get our comeuppance and part of this is doing a little ballet” he explains!
And while Mark can streetdance, he reveals that ballet is something he’s only ever done in the privacy of his own home – as you do!
“I’ve done break dancing and street dancing and stuff like that but ballet is a bit new to me” he explains.
“I mean - it’s something you do in the house by yourself isn’t it? When you’ve just come out the bath!”
And with that - we left it there!
Win tickets to see The Country Wife: use the link on the right!