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by Jenni Balow

Undoubtedly the dullest thing about this play is its title  -  it gives no hint of the fripperies and fopperies of a Restoration comedy that was banned from public performance for nearly 200 years, because it was dubbed as too sexually explicit.

Today, after decades of having our ears tuned to all too obvious double entendres, it no longer provokes so much as a frizzant of sensual shock, it simply leaves us mildly astonished that England's aristocracy had so much time at its disposal to indulge in such risque pursuits  -  especially its women.

It is worth putting this play in context, because Wycherley was writing in 1675, at a time when the Court of Charles II was making merry, after many years of banishment abroad.

During that time, the Puritans had closed the theatres and put a block on public entertainment, so Restoration dramatists reacted to those dark days by exploiting the freedom to push in the other direction, using a combination of satire with bawdy wit and repartee.

Historically, London circles regarded themselves as vastly superior to those from the country, heaven knows what they made of the Cornish at that time!

So, the plot follows the adventures of Margery (Claudia Carroll) the country wife of the rakish and bullying Bud Pinchwife (James Goodden) who has calculated that her naivety will keep her from the clutches of his foppish friends, ha, ha.

Despite her disguise as a very pretty youth, it doesn't take the predatory Horner (Tristan Marshall) more than a second or two to start seducing her, along with several other wives, to the amusement of their husbands who believe he is impotent and therefore a 'safe pair of hands' ha, ha.

All this is elegantly staged by John Davey, with 17th century frills superbly provided by costume designer Sarah Andrews and her team, who have raided the wardrobe for silks, sashes, ribbons, bows and buckles  -  just for the men.

At the centre of it all is a bunting-hung gazebo sheltering musical director Graham Reid on a harpsichord- tuned keyboard with flautist William Morton and Laurence Reid on percussion, wittily punctuating the action and slick scene changes with some merry tunes, both ancient and modern.

On the opening night, the audience applauded heartily when a nicely rehearsed beeping mobile phone belonging to bongo man Laurence, was hurled over the cliff into the sea as the action began.

The well-cast characters include Kerri Logan, with a gorgeously rich contralto speaking voice, a suitably bemused Howard Shepherdson, frill-flouncing fop Tim Pemberton, cheeky maid Francesca McInally, expressive Victor Mellors, conspirator Anthony Curran and meddling mother Anne Neville.

A welcome foil to the aristocratic antics is provided by the well-matched pair, Alithea and Harcourt, very well acted by Charlotte Sparey and James Burgess.

This lavish romp flows through a beautifully constructed 17th century doorway designed by Ray Dunning, that is locked and opened with farcical regularity, giving us an insight into the comedy of a past age.