THE CONSTANT WIFE
Bartholomew Players' last production, performed at Eynsham Village Hall from
Wed 30th November to Sat 2nd December 2016, was
The Constant Wife by Somerset Maugham.
What the critics said:
The excellent 1920s set appropriately dressed set the tone for this production.
This play is as relevant today as it was then and showed no signs of being ‘dated’.
The stalwart long-suffering butler, Bentley (Steve Ashcroft, in his 40th year with Bartholomew Players), was well cast, maintaining dignity and discretion
Mrs Culver (Deborah Lisburne Diacon) was stately and splendidly haughty in her attempts to protect her daughter, Constance, from the philandering of her husband. Her other daughter, the mischievous Martha Culver (Kate Astley O’Connor) was very strongly played and was a good foil to Constance. Her associate, Barbara Fawcett (Sarah Miller) was well cast and the clipped accents of both added to the twenties feel.
Constance Middleton (Gillian Somerscales) triumphed in the part. She was commanding throughout, taking every situation in her stride and gave a brilliant all-round performance. Marie-Louise Durham (Sandra van der Linde) was cunning in her naivety, being very demonstrative and flirtatious. John Middleton (Joe O’Connor) whilst having an affair with Marie Louise, was assured and increased in intensity and agitation as the plot unfolded, with some interesting awkward hand gestures, when his temper surfaced.
Bernard Kersal (Ed Miller) was very credible and relaxed as Constance’s would-be lover, totally unflustered by the frenzy that surrounded him. Mortimer Durham (Ianto Wain) was a good blustering foil to the beleaguered John and the relaxed Bernard.
The whole play maintained the humour of the twenties with good costume changes (of which there were many) Given that Denise Santilli is relative new at directing, she certainly is a force to be reckoned with. Her direction was excellent with effective use of the stage and very nice touches throughout.
This production maintained the high standard of the Bartholomew Players we have now come to expect. Well done to everyone involved..
Nigel James, Oxfordshire Drama Network
Love, as Somerset Maugham once declared, is what happens to a man and a woman who don’t know each other. The Constant Wife is all about people who know each other rather too well – and how the truth can hurt. Despite dating from 1927, it’s far removed from the twee innocence of Jeeves and Wooster, even if the setting – a drawing room, complete with crystal decanter of whisky – looks cosy.
This ‘comedy of manners’ about how a well-to-do wife outsmarts her cheating husband after analysing his infidelity with her best friend will no doubt provoke sympathy, chin-stroking and perhaps discomfort among the audience as well as plenty of laughs during the spiky exchanges. It is remarkable that in an era where public morals were strictly policed, some of the content escaped the censor’s pencil – particularly when the quick-witted and subversive Constance (played with bravado by Gillian Somerscales) tells her husband John (Joe O’Connor) that marriage is akin to prostitution. She seems happy about his philandering with such a “sweet” woman.
The cast, directed by Denise Santilli, play their parts with evident delight –
missing no opportunity to indulge in exaggerated received pronunciation and histrionics. Deborah Lisburne Diacon is wry and haughty as Constance’s mother, the dowager-like Mrs Culver; Kate Astley O’Connor is enjoyably feisty and smug as her daughter Martha; Sara Miller as pragmatic businesswoman Barbara is all fruity vowels and knowing looks as she delivers her pithy lines.
Sandra van der Linde is charmingly coquettish as Marie-Louise Durham, while Joe O’Connor waggles his eyebrows furiously as he is gradually humiliated. Ianto Wain, as Marie-Louise’s pompous cuckolded husband Mortimer, is rather a sad creature as he is brought low – and swindled. Steve Ashcroft has little to say as butler Bentley, but does it with aplomb. Some of the strongest scenes are between the headstrong Constance and her admirer Bernard (played superbly by Ed Miller, who segues with ease between diffidence and indignation).
While some references to the status of men and women are rooted in the past, the frailty of human relationships and the perennial issue of hypocrisy remain up to date. But leaving the breezy one-liners of the play aside, there is something chilly about it.
Paul Stammers, Oxford Daily Info
Bartholomew Players are noted for their first rate productions with much attention to detail in staging, set design and construction. Coupled with authentic costume design and some wonderful 20’s hair designs this production was no exception.
The Production: This was a splendid production and certainly up to the high standards which this group always set for themselves. The set, costumes and performances were all first class and perfectly complimented the assured and entertaining performances.
Gillian Somerscales in superb form headed the talented cast as the ‘Constant Wife’ Constance Middleton with a wonderful performance with wit and excellent delivery of her lines. Gillian used the stage well and her interactions with fellow performers was a joy to watch. She was perfectly in command of the situation and certainly had fun bringing this interesting and complex character to life.
Steve Ashcroft was perfectly cast as the weary but always dignified and available butler Bentley. I liked his languid delivery of his lines.
Deborah Lisbourne Diacon
Deborah Lisbourne Diacon was very good as Constance’s mother Mrs. Culver - the slightly domineering and eager to offer not necessarily wanted or needed marital advice to her liberally minded daughter. Deborah had excellent diction and was obviously having great fun playing the part.
Constance’s prim and slightly smug sister was played well by Kate Astley O’Connor. She had good projection and suitably flounced around the stage with great style.
A well-judged and very watchable performance.
The ever dependable Joe O’Connor played the seemingly wronged husband
John Middleton with relish looking suitably shocked and villainous as the story unfolded. There was great chemistry between Constance and John and their scenes crackled with barely suppressed passion and lots of humour.
Barbara Fawcett - Constance’s friend and business associate was well captured by Sara Miller with some wonderfully clipped vowels and some excellent facial expressions. She projected well and looked completely relaxed in the role.
Sandra van der Linde
New-comer Sandra van der Linde excelled as the ‘other woman’ Marie-Louise Durham. She played the mischievous and manipulative mistress with aplomb. If the programme notes in her biography are anything to go by Bartholomew Players have made a real find in Sandra.
Ed Miller was very believable as the love sick former beau of Constance, Bernard Kersal. He projected well and conveyed the character’s still enamoured feelings convincingly.
Ianto Wain completed the line-up as the pompous and long suffering husband of Marie-Louise. He made the character completely believable and projected well.
I believe this was Denise Santilli’s second donning of the directorial hat and she certainly built on her experience from the previous production which she directed. This was well paced and each member of the cast gave very good performances which were all very believable. Just a few tiny comments about cast ‘behaviours’.
Be careful that unnecessary ‘business’ doesn’t creep in. One character repeatedly looked in the parcel bags and put gloves on and took them off several times for no apparent reason. This can be distracting for an audience.
James Berry’s sound plot worked well and with very little ‘sound’ effects being required hopefully did not cause him too many problems.
Similarly the lighting by Graham Diacon was perfect and showed the set off to good effect but with no major lighting effects in the ‘plot’ the lighting did not cause too many headaches. I did note that the exterior scene wasn’t lit and this was a shame but talking after the show I learned that a last minute technical problem had prevented the exterior from being lit.
The make-up by Ellina Mikhailova was very good and looked in keeping with the period and setting of the piece.
Steve Ashcroft’s set design worked a treat and looked most striking in the dressing and placement of furniture. The stage does seem somewhat limited in space in this venue but this set looked quite spacious with the clever arrangement of furniture and the double doors leading to the hall way.
Trisha Leopold had assembled some authentic looking props although I felt the gift bags did look rather modern.
Judith Essery and Sue Greenwood had certainly worked hard to achieve some very authentic looking costumes which looked splendid and were perfect for the period of the play.
The programme was well put together with some interesting and informative snippets of information about the author and the play and also contained the usual director’s notes and cast biographies.
Rob Bertwistle, NODA
Cast in order of appearance
Bentley – Steve Ashcroft
Mrs Culver – Deborah Lisburne Diacon
Martha Culver – Kate Astley O'Connor
Barbara Fawcett – Sara Miller
Constance Middleton – Gillian Somerscales
Marie-Louise Durham – Sandra van der Linde
John Middleton – Joe O'Connor
Bernard Kersal – Ed Miller
Mortimer Durham – Ianto Wain
Directed by Denise Santilli