IT’S said that The Provoked Wife is the most plundered-from play in theatre history and such are the spoils of this 17th Century battle of the sexes.

Director Phillip Breen says writers from Ibsen to Pinter have borrowed from this examination of marital mayhem full of frolicking, frocks and wigs.

The debt is owed to author John Vanbrugh who must have put the four years he was in a French jail to good use writing two successful plays and going on to become an architect – designing Castle Howard outside York.

The Provoked Wife opened in 1697 and was the most popular in the eighteenth century and is now captivating a new audience at the Swan Theatre, Stratford.

And this play about love and marriage is not as divorced from modern life as you’d think. There are many mirrors on the set of this gloriously farcical production reflecting society and allowing people to attempt to see who they really are.

The play centres on the loveless marriage of the virtuous Lady Brute and her odious drunkard husband Sir John Brute. The clue’s in the name!

Jonathan Slinger as Sir John and Alexandra Gilbreath as his long-suffering wife give immense performances, anchoring down this enjoyable production. They really are top actors.

Lady Brute is virtuous but it is tested in the shape of prospective lover and saviour Constant played with gusto by the popular TV/radio personality Rufus Hound. In fact, this RSC production calls upon a few celebrity talents with comedian Les Dennis playing Colonel Bully and Caroline Quentin as Lady Fancyfull.

The Provoked Wife runs until September 7. Box Office: 01789 403493.

John Murphy