The story is about Arnolphe , who bought a child (Agnes) when she was four and kept her in almost isolation, not allowing her to meet anyone . He wanted her to retain her innocence so that he could marry her when she had grown in to a woman and have the most faithful wife. However, when he is away on business, Agnes, (who is now a grown women) falls in love with a man her own age which sets off a chain of events of miss-identity and confusion.
Peter Bowles who plays Arnolphe is wonderful as he acts out his torment and distress on the stage when he finds out about the young man's desires on his intended bride. He captures the audience superbly with great facial expressions and perfect comic timing. A truly great performance.
There is a great performance from Eric Sykes too as the dopey man servant 'Alain'. I wish they could have used him more, Sykes is a very gifted comic actor.
The show has received some great reviews. Nicholas de Jongh of the Evening Standard said "Peter Hall, while he puts a romantic gloss upon this most enticing Moliere farce, never lets you forget The School For Wives teaches a dateless, comic lesson to men who imagine women can be kept in place by male power and loads of guile". Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph was very enthusiastic he says "These days Sir Peter Hall often strikes me as a beta-double-plus director rather than pure alpha, a solid, usually reliable slogger rather than the source of real dramatic inspiration.I am, however, delighted to report that his School for Wives is one of the funniest shows in the West End." Peter Bowles gets most praise from the critics with his performance as 'Arnolphe'. Benedict Nightingale from The Times says "..Didn't Molière himself highlight the commedia? Didn't clowning remain part of the recipe as his comedy darkened? And, anyway, who could upstage Bowles in this mood? Not Sykes, not all three Marx Brothers, not anyone." and John Thaxter from The Stage says "..But Once into the cut and thrust of the plot, Ranjit Bolt's fresh, splendidly speakable adaptation serves the comedy brilliantly with a ripe choice of rude language for Bowles' Amolphe...Bowles gives a starry, brilliantly theatrical performance..." .
In all, the acting was first class, the trouble was the script. It just was not funny enough for me. I never laughed out load once and there were long periods of time when I even struggled to smigger. This one I'm sure is an acquired taste, some will love it, others will be looking at their watches. Having said that it is worth going just to admire the performance of Bowles and Sykes who for me saved the evening from being one big bore!