“It’s hard to be original in theatre- the gap in which you can work is narrow, and is narrowing all the time. I feel like we’ve found a gap that is not narrowing. It’s theatre for people who are often unimpressed by theatre”
It’s not hard to get Tom Stuchfield, the writer/director of black comedy The Wives of Others, to speak his mind about the state of contemporary theatre. He freely admits that he is often unimpressed by many of the shows that he sees, whether they be £5 amateur productions or £50 West End hits. As he sees it, theatre too easily descends into cliche. Kitchen sink dramas with the same casts of dull characters, or psychological narratives with all too predictable twists may leave an audience struck by clever wordplay or individual moments of tension, but rarely have a long-lasting impression. With The Wives of Others, he has set out to do something radically different. As he puts it, “it’s a show that you’ll go and talk about in the pub afterwards. And the day after. And the day after.”
The Wives of Others tells the story of a dinner party in 1950s New York for the wives of six career-criminals in the underground world of organised crime. When the ‘job’ their loved ones are on goes awry, the emotional fallout starts to fracture their relationships, their sanity, and the dining room. It’s a far cry from your standard comedy- it’s messy, profane and violent, but might just be the most original play around. But, Tom is quick to point out, it’s not just guns and gags- it also raises interesting questions about society’s reaction to violence. The show disconcerts the audience by making people laugh out loud at events which they would normally find disturbing, whilst some of the apparent jokes in the script turn out to be some of its most dramatic moments.
This is not the first outing for the play- it’s a project that has evolved over several years. It started its life in Cambridge, before transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe last year, receiving rapturous responses from audiences. Whilst in the original run it was structured as a straightforward parody of gangster films, the team were overwhelmed by how much people loved the characters, and so over time it has become a more polished, character focused production. However, this isn’t to say that it has lost its edge- Tom is clear that the current iteration is, if anything, messier and crazier than the original.
One of the play’s most striking features is its all-female cast, but when I ask Tom if it is a feminist play, he is hesitant. “I’ve always thought that the best way to write strong female characters is just to write strong characters who happen to be female”, he points out. However, he admits that the casting has led to some interesting audience reactions. He highlights the fact that people have taken offence at the violence and sheer nastiness of some of the characters, in a way that they might not have had the characters been male. This is undoubtedly a major strength of the play. It aims to break from mainstream theatre and toy with audience expectations, and by casting women in traditionally male roles, putting guns in their hands and swearwords in their mouths, it certainly achieves that.
The Wives of Others is a unique opportunity to experience the type of theatre that you’ve always wanted to see, but didn’t think existed. It runs for 5 nights from the 24th-28th January at the OSO.