Polly Findlay’s production of The Country Wife at the Royal Exchange is a rampantly sexualised farce set in Seventeenth Century London. The play, so scandalised censors that it was not performed for 200 years; William Wycherley rips apart all decent behaviour in the comic romp. Young wits cuckold jealous husbands from start to finish. This play gives clear warning to married men to not let their wives near the theatre. There are no honourable men to be found, and the play is a raucous delight for that. The ‘innocent’ country wife (played deliciously by Amy Morgan) alone has anything approaching a moral compass but is so naive and easily manipulated as to be worthy of pity.
The RSC’s production of Julius Caesar has a far greater concern for honour. Produced by Gregory Doran (the new Artistic Director of the RSC), the most well-known of Shakespeare’s Roman play is set in an African state: a pertinent setting to debate dictatorship. Frankly, the play is simply too long; much better that Shakespeare had stowed his quill after the funereal speeches following the Et Tu Brute assassination. We could have done with the curtain coming down after we -friends, Romans, countryman – had leant Mark Anthony our ears rather than having an half an hour of campfire mumbling, battlefields and suicides that the numerous schoolchildren– possibly fairly – found highly entertaining. Brutus’ slave boy (Simon Manyonda) provided delightful comic relief throughout and his traditional musical instrument kept the second half going. Individual performances were mixed, Paterson Joseph (Brutus) and Ray Fearon (Mark Anthony) outshone the rest in passion and good old-fashioned enunciation.