Played for laughs though it is – and very successfully so at times – the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of John Vanbrugh’s The Provoked Wife starkly reveals the thoroughly nasty and misogynistic side to the play.

This does not make for comfortable viewing for audiences at The Swan Theatre, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

No more does the length of the piece.

Vanbrugh – the genius architect of magnificent (and massive) Blenheim Palace – clearly goes big for the stage as well. This production from director Phillip Breen, despite a quick-fire delivery by many of its exceptionally gifted players, extends to well over three hours.

The running time is stretched by lengthy musical interludes with on-stage musicians, but it would be a shame to miss these and the clever period pastiche supplied by composer Paddy Cunneen.

In a very welcome return to the Stratford stage, Jonathan Slinger – who once played Richards II and III here in night-by-night rotation – shows us a mighty figure of fun in Sir John Brute, the aristocrat whose visceral loathing of his missus proves, for her, so . . . well, provoking.

In both girth and thirst, he puts us in mind – surely deliberately – of another Sir John of the stage. Alas, he has none of Falstaff’s wit, nor indeed his gentlemanly mien. In fact, he is a drunken boor in speech and action. His table-top ‘rape’ of Alexandra Gilbreath’s Lady Brute is disgusting and hard to watch.

It is small wonder in the circumstances that she should be tempted by the charms of young Constant (Rufus Hound), even as her lovely young niece Bellinda (Natalie Dew) is causing his friend Heartfree (John Hodgkinson) to rethink his contemptuous attitude to the female sex.

There is still much on which to exercise his razor-sharp tongue, though, in the preposterous, preening figure of Lady Fancyfull, presented in deliciously comic style by Caroline Quentin (pictured left). God’s gift to men, as she clearly thinks herself, this raddled old woman should really heed the evidence from the forest of mirrors (designer Mark Baily) surrounding her as she prepares to meet the world.

Assisting in this, with a droll French accent, is her Mademoiselle, the excellent Sarah Twomey.

The Provoked Wife continues until September 7. Box office: 01789 331111,