Though written originally as a satire, The School for Wives is extremely uncomfortable thematically. It follows Arnold, the main protagonist, in his attempts to groom a young girl after adopting her as a child in preparation to marry him when she reaches maturity. Writing in seventeenth century France under the patroneage of Louis XIV, Moliere thought of his plays as ‘public mirrors’. Television broadcasts and the media are arguably mirrors for our own time, reflecting our belief systems back at us.
I started thinking about the sexism and male superiority evident in 70s television shows specifically, drawing parallels between their larger than life hosts and Arnold, whose monologues address the audience throughout. This seemed a particularly relevant setting especially with current issues surrounding scandals from this time coming to light. I imagined Arnold to be the chat show host of his own travelling reality TV show “The School for Wives”.
Playing to a passer-by audience he boasts of how he has managed to ‘unlock the feminine mystique’ with a big reveal of the ‘tamed woman’ - his ward.
Drawing from travelling troupes and Commedia d’ell Arte in Moliere’s time, a lorry would be driven around regional British town squares, with the set unpacked as part of the performance by crew doubling as actors and the show’s production team. The male dandyism and peackoking of the seventie has parallels with the hedonistic fashions of seventeenth century France and added to the caricature of the characters in the play.
In wanting to create a space that mocks Arnold when his idea fails and Agnes runs off with a younger man, but also feels very much like his domain, I designed branding for the show in line with this idea of ‘unlocking feminine mystique’. Voyeuristic keyholes form a simultaneously sinister and kitsch look to the show.