IN BRIEF Four part time-travelling play explores the prices paid for marriage by those termed “wives” in an earnest but uneven script, well-acted and directed.
WIFE is four one-act plays linked by related, conflicted characters, spanning 90 years of time- 1959, 1988, 2019 and 2049. It’s a very uneven, sprawling but earnest show which aspires to look at the state of marriage across the years, through interactions with Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE, using the play and theatre as reference points along the way. Anyone who does not know Ibsen’s play will still find this show accessible.
In 1959, teacher Daisy loves actor Suzannah but is married to accountant Robert, who sexually assaults her. The resulting (unwanted) child -Ivar- in 1988 pressures Eric, a young carer (for the previously mentioned Daisy) to come out too quickly and in doing so causes their relationship to split. In 2019, Eric’s daughter Clare tracks down the previously mentioned Ivar to ask about her father who has been killed. Ivar is now married to Cas, a self-obsessed performance artist wasting Ivar’s money on vanity projects. In 2049, Clare’s daughter Daisy is in love with the theatre and actor Suzannah, who tries to help her unravel the mystery of the tambourine, a family heirloom, and inscriptions therein. Cyclically, and quite satisfyingly, we return to 1959 to the first meeting between Daisy and Suzannah, where all the possibilities began.
Samuel Adamson has produced an intense play, with only a few laughs amongst the angst, but it held the audience from start to finish. Adamson’s thrust seems to be that the state of marriage has never provided equality and liberty; in the first part it is seen as a traditional trap for women, the second is as an unfocused aspiration to “have what heterosexuals have”, the third is lazy and an anachronistic accessory, and the fourth seems unnecessary. The play says much more about homosexual relationships than heterosexual ones and as such is a more useful debater about how society’s outsiders seem to have become politically neutered by being brought inside the law. However, this is all rather academic and somewhat dry. The section in the future was less compelling to me and perhaps only there to frame the circularity device, it did not interest me as much as the other parts.
Indhu Rubasingham skilfully directs with a humanity and care for the characters, while also providing us with a very funny and much welcome first act curtain which completely drags us into the present. A cast of six do a good job with the material they are given.
As a wider exploration of marriage the play is lacking, but as an examination of same-sex relationships and how they relate to the social and legal strictures of the day it fares better. From Daisy’s 1959 “arranged marriage” to Ivar’s 1988 struggle for self-expression, to Ivar’s 2019 realisation that the grass isn’t always greener (“We got what we wanted… and we lost”) to young Daisy’s open relationship of 2049, it’s an interesting discussion. For me, the play works best when in the present, highlighting self-obsession and expression which appear to have engendered complacency amongst those who have not had to fight for the rights they have been gifted with. As a discussion, this show has many loose ends and unexplored avenues which made it rather frustrating for this viewer.
The “wife” term will mean different things to different people in different times. As it is used here, it’s first as a prisoner, then a camp joke, then a self-conscious archaism, then- who knows? Rather than accepting society’s definitions, how much better to first know, and be ourselves – to find our own truth, not a label.
I hope that WIFE finds its audience.
WIFE runs at the Kiln Theatre, Kilburn, until 6 July. Information and tickets here