The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder is a new play by Matt Charman, playing at the National Theatre and looking at whether polygamy is a valid or possible lifestyle choice in the middle of suburbia. Set in a regular house in Lewisham, Pinder and his wife Esther have not been able to have children, so he divorced her and married Fay who delivered a son, Vincent. However Esther didn’t move out and realising he was onto something here, Pinder repeats the trick twice more, filling his house with wives and children. But this alternative lifestyle has its downsides and two new arrivals threaten to upset the delicate balancing act.
Whilst an unbelievable concept, especially given Lamb’s average Joe looks and demeanour, Charman does well at spinning the web that holds them altogether. Sorcha Cusack’s childless earth mother who rather enjoys having a flock to tend over; Clare Holman’s Fay who masks her unease by drinking and sleeping around whilst fretting over her gangly awkward son (Adam Gillen, who is bizarrely brilliant); Martina Laird’s Lydia who was essentially just after a sperm donor. Enter Carla Henry’s Rowena, a heavily pregnant and emotionally and physically battered teenager who is welcomed into the strange state of affairs. This all kind of works and is surprisingly well executed.
The problem comes when the main thrust of the play begins: the addition of a fifth wife, Tessa Peake-Jones’ Irene, Pinder’s office manager who stirs things up something chronic and then when Jason, one of Fay’s one-night-stands, turns out to be a council worker who is responsible for ok-ing their house extension, things get messy. Too messy in fact, because it is not apparent what Charman’s message really is here. Jason’s objections take the form of moral outrage and clearly represent what society thinks of such a polyamorous set-up but then with the tumult of the unravelling of the domestic bliss, Pinder reveals himself to be the worst kind of egotist and a thoroughly unlikeable chap.
This confusion is a shame as the premise is fairly engaging and the original set-up fairly convincing. But the introduction of caricatures like Irene and Jason lessen the impact and in the final analysis we end up none the wiser as to the author’s thoughts on monogamy vs polygamy, leaving the audience ultimately quite frustrated. Credit should go to Ti Green’s design though, stretching the length of the Cottesloe from house to garden to caravan, it is a highly effective use of space.