Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

The Constant Wife
by  W Somerset Maugham   directed by Lyn Chatterton

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, July 2009

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A Review of the Constant Wife
by Colin McLean

Maugham the playwright may not have achieved the same lasting fame as Shaw or Coward, but he could turn his hand to different genres, including, as this play demonstrates, the 'comedy of manners'. Written in 1928 and set against the infidelity of a successful but caddish husband, the play sets us firmly on the battleground of the sexes. There is little action and plenty of wordy dialogue (calling for inventive direction as well as concentration all round). It leans decidedly towards what Shaw called his 'discussion plays'. Indeed the whole piece is something of a debate‐ an exploration of constancy in the form of love, the sexes, and the institution of marriage, and inconstancy, restlessness and change. It falls to the heroine, Constance (who else?) Middleton, to embody these themes most fully.

In the central role Meg Dixon relished the many opportunities to propound as well as to confound, apparently, many of these central themes. Maugham draws Constance as a far from conventional character, a blessing (for an actress) duly seized upon by Meg. It is hugely to her credit that much of the production's enviable pace stemmed from her, whilst her diction, projection and evident enjoyment kept the audience's worthy attention throughout. Both role and performance were indeed central.
As her wayward husband, John Middleton, Julian Cooper gave, as ever, a very strong and wholly believable performance. He too added greatly to the pace, never allowing Maugham's 'discussion points' to dominate the dialogue. He was assured throughout, and in the final scene with Constance he even managed to elicit some sympathy for John, no mean feat.

Amongst the other roles, Stephanie Hamer, as mother to both Constance and Martha, delighted the audience hugely with her fine underplaying of the far from conventional, though still socially motivated Mrs Culver. It is in this role in particular that one can hear Maugham straining for some Wildean aphorisms,  though in fairness many succeed. The acid test of one's being in love, she affirms, rests on whether you can conceive of using another's toothbrush. A fine performance.

Angelique Fronicke (as Martha Culver) and Christine Easterfield (as Barbara Fawcett) both added sisterly outrage and friendly support to Constance respectively in fine measure. With Mrs Culver taking so liberal a view of infidelity it falls to Martha to provide some more conventional counterweight, never an easy role, but Angelique never made it anything other than wholly credible. As with Martha so too with Barbara on one or two occasions we could have done with a touch more volume, but both added greatly to the glossy polish on this production.

To Alexandra Fye (as Marie‐Louise Durham) fell the role of Middleton's other love interest, which she fulfilled with characteristic charm and confidence. Her husband Mortimer, Rob Newman, was not seen as much, but added to the fun when he did. As did Liz Beeson, as Bentley, particularly when inappropriately dismissed from the room by her employer. Neatly played. In many ways Maugham's true 'constant' is the former fiance and lover‐in‐waiting, Bernard Kersal, played sympathetically by Ken Eason. Any portrayal of unrequited love could risk being theatrically bland, but no so here. Ken's Bernard, with more than a dash of enlivening blondeness, was both the civil, devoted friend but also very much his own self‐made man. He still dared to dream, but had achieved more besides.

To animate this play, to bring it to colourful life, to set it meticulously in its place and time and to add many touches of period authenticity required Lyn Chatterton to be at her inventive best in the Director's chair, as Set Designer and as Costume Designer. In all senses she did herself more than proud. On a beautifully dressed set the costumes stood out especially well (though, as a small aside, where were the seamed stockings, ladies?) and the 'set piece' scenes never seemed that way, thanks to some clever direction and skilful stagecraft. The dialogue flowed but so did the action. It was another very fine evening out at the ADC; congratulations to Lyn, all the designers, to Bawds and the Penguins.

And take another bow, W Somerset M, you're certainly not forgotten yet.