A moveable feast: Bell Shakespeare’s The School for Wives

Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably, they are both disappointed.
Albert Einstein

It’s November, eight weeks until the new year, and the city is in its holiday humour. I don’t think there is a better way to bring on summer than with a life-affirming comedy – such as one of Bell Shakespeare’s offerings – of which their production of Moliere’s The School For Wives is a perfect example.
Following on from her beautiful and ingenious production of Twelfth Night for Bell Shakespeare in 2010 (also the national tour production), Lee Lewis directs a new Australian translation of Moliere’s “comedic train-wreck of a love story that tangles innocence with arrogance – and the other way around.” Set in Paris in the 1920s, Lewis’ production borrows and riffs upon the aesthetic of silent films and is filled with a rollicking knock-about sense of life, self and body. It plays to and acknowledges its stylistic progenitor in a deliciously playful and whimsical way, every pratfall and moment savoured and delighted in by cast and audience alike.
The School For Wives tells the story of Arnolde (or ‘Monsieur de la Souche’ as he prefers to be called), a man who desperately wants to get married but is afraid that a smart woman will cheat on him. He devises an ingenious solution, and enlists the help of a local convent to raise a girl so stupidly innocent that she won’t know the first thing about cheating – let alone the last. In his mind she will be the ever-faithful perfect wife. But is she? In true Moliere style, much like a Shakespearean comedy, “the course of true love never did run smooth” and by the play’s end, the characters’ passions and desires have become so entangled only something akin to a miracle – or at least a heaven-sent miscommunication – could save them and right wrongs.