Love in a Wood; The Gentleman Dancing-Master; The Country Wife; The Plain Dealer

By William Wycherley; Peter Dixon | Go to book overview

NOTE ON STAGING

WYCHERLEY'S four comedies were first produced at three different theatres: Love in a Wood at the Theatre Royal, Bridges Street, which was destroyed by fire in 1672; The Gentleman Dancing-Master at the Dorset Garden Theatre, the new home of the Duke's Company; The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer at the rebuilt Theatre Royal, opened in 1674. Wycherley's use of the physical resources of these three playhouses was relatively austere; he was content to achieve his effects with a limited number of the basic elements which they had in common.

In front of the proscenium arch extended a deep forestage, its walls containing two doors on either side. (Some theatre historians favour a single door on each side.) Actresses and actors normally entered the playing area through these doors; it is likely that in all interior scenes one of the two doors nearest the audience regularly represented the entrance from/exit to the street. The corresponding door on the opposite side of the stage would normally be assumed to be the way into a bedroom or closet. During scenes located inside a house or lodgings the audience has to ignore the fact that these versatile doors are equipped with knockers, and can therefore be readily transformed into the front doors of London houses for scenes which take place in the street. The doors were hinged upstage, and opened off-stage, so a partly opened door is a convenient place for spying or overhearing. In the scenes in Love in a Wood which are set in St James's Park a half-opened door may function as a concealing bush or tree (as in 5.1), while all four doors are used for entrances and exits as though they led into and out of the shaded alleys and walks of the park.

Behind the frame of the proscenium arch were sets of wings, perhaps three in all, and behind them the back-scene or back-shutter. The stage-directions 'Enter at a distance' and 'Enter behind' probably mean that the actor emerges from between the furthest wing and the back-scene. The latter consisted of two flats (canvas stretched over a wooden frame) which slid together from opposite sides of the stage to meet in the centre. The flats ran in a groove between battens fixed to the stage-floor, with guide-rails suspended from the flies to keep them upright. A second (perhaps also a third) groove, immediately behind the first, enabled the back-scene to be quickly changed; as the

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