Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Country Dramaturgy: Will Dalrymple @ Edfringe 2016

Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club produces:

The Country Wife by William Wycherley, adapted by Mark Bittlestone and Will Dalrymple

Run (1h 10m)
09.25 August 5th-13th (except 7th)
10.25 August 15th-20th
10.40 August 22nd-27th

theSpace on the Mile, Radisson Blu Hotel, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

“If I can but abuse the husbands I’ll soon disabuse the wives.”

Considered too scandalous to be performed at all between 1753 and 1924, William Wycherley’s The Country Wife is returning to the stage at Edinburgh this August with a lewd and outrageous, even for the 21st Century, adaptation by Mark Bittlestone and Will Dalrymple.

Burkhas, terrorism jokes, and plenty of nods to the cross-dressing and smut of Wycherley’s original abound.

The newly divorced Harry Horner has spread a rumour of his own impotence around the country club. The reason? To seduce his way across the affluent, leafy town of Blandford, New England come hell, high water or jealous husband. Relocated to suburban America by a group of Cambridge University students, William Wycherley’s restoration classic has never been funnier.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I’ve just completed an English degree and I wrote a coursework piece on The Country Wife last year. What struck me the most about it was that it was written in the 17th Century and was funny. What was more, it was actually funny as opposed to (pardon my sacrilege) Shakespeare funny. I always thought it’d be a dream to stage, especially given that Restoration theatre is largely overlooked these days.
When that opportunity arose, the limitations of budget on authentic, period costume and set forced my co- writer and director Mark Bittlestone and I to think about relocating the play to today and bringing the dialogue with it, in a complete and irreverent modernisation, the challenge of which excited us both immensely. My love (guilt-free) of the TV series Desperate Housewives and of tightly-wound suburban social politics in general suggested to me an aesthetic and setting for the performance which fitted perfectly with the tone of Wycherley’s original play.
How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I was actually gathered before I began to help gather. The original team consisted of Mark and our tireless producer Joseph Spencer, who together were determined to bring something extraordinary to the Fringe. By being in the right place at the right time (Mark’s room while he was weighing up options as to which show to take up) I was signed up. We were all studying at Cambridge University at the time, which has a strong student theatre tradition, so Joseph then began putting together a crew from the enormous pools of talent out there.
Mark and I held open auditions to cast the play, a process which, while necessary in my mind, has its risks. Thankfully the result of these auditions was a spectacular cast who have taken to the show and its tone so well that the process of rehearsals has been natural, fun and surprising in what it throws up.
How did you become interested in making performance?
Since doing my drama GCSE (I know, I know; don’t roll your eyes) I’ve always enjoyed making performance in the sense that I enjoyed performing. I was in a school play before I started Uni and it was a hoot. Then a friend and I wrote and performed comedy songs at various events around Cambridge for the first year and a half of my degree which was, while very difficult and at times disheartening, tremendous fun and I did a bit of acting on the side. While I enjoyed these performances, I wouldn’t say I became interested in making performance until I had more of a say over the whole process, dreadful and vainglorious as that sounds!
This is because I wrote and directed two adaptations of Laurence Sterne’s novel ‘Tristram Shandy’ over the past year (the first of which is playing at C Nova from the 10th to the 28th of August this year). Having all the different facets of performance, all the many things that will stimulate the audience’s senses – light, sound, a ‘proper set’, props that can be as big and unnecessary as you like, space – at the disposal of a script allowed me to invest in more than simply the writing/directing side of things and investigate the various sides of performance-making.
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
For the Country Wife? Absolutely not. First off the bat, we have American accents to deal with. The cast have been excellent in this regard, but there are always slip-ups, and there are always words which prove a stumbling block (‘calm’ is a particularly tricky one). So this has made a lot of the rehearsal process more detailed – we’ve paused on certain words and spent a while working on inflection in favour of shaping the scene as a whole. Another difference has been that it’s a collaborative creation; I’m used to working through the script and direction largely on my own, and bouncing what I’ve come up with off of the cast, crew and everyone without whom the script is just a script.
I’m aware that makes me sound like some dreadful theatrical despot, but collaborating directly with someone else, as I have done with Mark, has made a huge difference and in many ways has been a huge improvement. It’s been swifter, more experimental, more fun, and we’ve relied more heavily on the cast’s involvement when shaping the tone of the performance. With a Fringe show there are also more logistical nightmares to sift through - for all of these I take absolutely no credit, and it’s a testament to Joseph, Mark, Stan (our
Assistant Producer) and the rest of the crew that I’ve been able to get away with doing close to sod-all on the administrative side of things!
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I want them to be entertained, more than and before anything else. In my experience of student theatre, too often I’ve found that directors and writers and so on have put their enjoyment of making a performance they want to have made over making a performance that, on some level, an audience will enjoy.
The result is shows that are ‘interested’ in ideas more than interested in making these ideas interesting, if that makes sense? Just because a script goes to some moral or ideological or philosophical place, that really doesn’t guarantee an audience will want to go with them. The Country Wife (our version of it, at least) isn’t trying to do anything except stimulate excitement, laughter (hopefully a lot of laughter), sympathy, tension, joy, recognition, surprise and the odd bit of shock from the audience. This doesn’t sound particularly ambitious, because in reality it isn’t.
These are obvious, basic goals: The Country Wife is a play with an excellent plot and character roster (thanks to Mr Wycherley) and what we hope are plenty of excellent jokes. And we want to get these simple things really, really right, which a lot of performances disregard as a given and subsequently prove otherwise.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
No strategies per se, we just gave our undivided attention to every aspect of the performance to render it as enjoyable as possible. A lot of what fed into our ambition for an exciting, hilarious romp was an accidental necessity. The show is pacey as hell- there is scarcely a moment when the delicious plot isn’t barrelling forwards. This is because the Restoration original is long and our time slot is an hour. Before we modernised it I scaled it down to just over an hour, leaving the essential plot and character material and the funniest bits. Even this version was too long once we had updated the language.
The constant trimming of fat has given the show an electrifying pace which has massively helped the fact that we don’t want the audience to be bored for a second. Similarly, the modern setting has allowed us (in what we hope is not a self-satisfied or ham-fisted way) to engage with an Edinburgh audience in the same way that Wycherley engaged with his audience in the 1670s – by reaching out to the world around him. A less mischievous playwright might do this by gentle pop-culture references. Wycherley did it through shock. He gave a platform to the most salacious of motivations and the seediest practices of London society. Mark and I felt it would be a betrayal of Wycherley not to do the same with our adaptation. The original was banned between 1753 and 1924. So maybe you shall see next us on The List in 2187, if all goes well!
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I suppose our modernisation has brought the play out of the tradition of Restoration theatre in its strictest sense and brought it closer to a farce, in the vein of P.G Wodehouse and Tom Sharpe. But it’s very much a literary and cultural hybrid, with its basis in Restoration theatre, the colour palette of Wisteria Lane, its subscription to what Malcolm Muggeridge might have called ‘Undergraduate Humour’ and its references to our modern world.

The Co-Directors/Writers

Mark Bittlestone is a comedian, Cambridge Footlights Committee 2016-2017 member, and recent Pembroke College, Cambridge graduate, where he took a First in History. Next year he is taking an MPhil in Film at Cambridge.

Will Dalrymple is a recent graduate of Jesus College, Cambridge. In 2015 he wrote and directed a sell-out adaptation of Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy at Cambridge’s ADC Theatre.

The Playwright
William Wycherley (1641-1716) was a Restoration era naval officer, poet, and playwright who wrote in the maelstrom of the 1660s and 1670s, shortly after the Puritan morality laws, including bans on the theatre, had been repealed.  It was in this climate that he produced his more licentious and sexually explicit plays, of which The Country Wife is perhaps the most prominent example.

He is noted primarily for last two comedies he wrote, The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer in 1672 and 1676 respectively. King Charles II saw the original The Country Wife twice and is said to have joined in with a ‘dance of the cuckolds’ at the end of one performance. Despite living to 75 Wycherley wrote his last play (The Plain Dealer)  aged 35 in 1676.


Founded 1855, the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club is the oldest University Drama Society in the UK, and Cambridge’s largest. CUADC produce a large range of productions every term both at the ADC Theatre and the Corpus Playroom, both located in Cambridge. They also take a number of shows to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Prominent Alumni include, among others, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Eddie Redmayne, and Sam Mendes.


Mr Horner - Isaac Jordan
Mrs Alithea - Larissa Schymyck
Lady Fidget - Christina Mackay
Dainty Fidget - Inge-Vera Lipsius
Lady Squeamish - Elliott Wright
Margery Pinchwife - Jasmin Rees
Lucy - Olivia Gillman
Sir Jaspar Fidget - Harrison MacNeill
Mr Harcourt - Jack Benda
Mr Pinchwife - Aurélien Guéroult
Mr Dorilant & Doctor - Jamie Webb
Mr Sparkish - Joe Pieri

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