King's Theatre Edinburgh (venue)
01 October 2019 (released)
03 October 2019
Oscar Wilde’s witty and satirical play, about the double standards applied by Victorian society to men and women, shines in a new touring production, courtesy of the Classic Spring Theatre.
If ever a man was just that little bit too clever for his own good then Oscar Wilde was point-device that very man. This Irish poet's genius cannot be gainsaid and it was perhaps inevitable that with his ego he would eventually be “hoist on his own petard”. Wilde's tragedy was indeed the world's loss. This was Wilde's forth play written primarily as a vehicle for the then king pin (along with Irving) of the British theatre, Herbert Beerbohm-Tree. Never achieving the popularity of its predecessor 'Lady Windermere's Fan' it does like most of Wilde's plays remain in the repertoire. Not at all bad seeing how it was premiered in 1893.
Wilde is once again at home exposing the upper classes for their questionable ideals and morals or lack of them (which have not changed an iota). This was after all the man who wrote the essay 'The Soul of Man under Socialism'. There are, as usual, finely written parts for the leads though Act 1 is rather lacking in action and is more of a witty exercise that takes place at a party in the overbearing Lady Caroline Pontefract's (Isla Blair) garden and later her lounge. We have the usual plethora of epigrams and one-liners (many of which are still in use) but not much happens. It is mainly small talk but it does establish the characters. Sometimes a clever line seems to impede the action; but this was Oscar!
Young Gerald Arbuthnot (Tim Gibson), a charming and well-spoken young man, has been offered the job of private secretary to no less an important personage than the corrupt but cynical Lord Illingworth (Mark Meadows) who is another house-guest. Gerald is unfortunately 'illegitimate' (a shocking thing in those days) and still lives with his strong-willed and kindly mother (Katy Stephens) - shh!... a ‘scarlet woman'. Everyone seems to think Gerald has been offered a golden opportunity, in fact with his background it’s the chance of a lifetime. Among the other guests are various titled women (weren't they all?) including Lady Caroline's friend Lady Hunstanton (Liza Goddard) - an equalizer of sorts - and youngish, bitchy Mrs. Allonby (Emma Amos) who is rather akin to Illingworth moralistically speaking, which explains why he is not interested in her sexually.
This cannot be said for the other houseguest, Miss Hester Worsley, a young American woman the orphaned Miss Hester Worsley (Georgia Landers) who is somewhat naive in her understanding of the 'British class system'… her impassioned speech is hardly likely to impress Lady Caroline's entourage. She is, of course, the woman young Gerald has fallen in love with. Here the triangle begins and extends: being an innocent (Hester, that is), Illingworth obviously intends to 'deflower' the girl at the earliest opportunity. Illingworth nevertheless has genuinely taken a real shine to Gerald. Enter Mrs. Arbuthnot (although she is unmarried) on clapping eyes on his Lordship, we know instantly that something has passed between them long time ago and you don't have to be to clever to work it out: Lord Illingworth is Gerald's real father! Mrs. Arbuthnot now has a real problem on hand, for if she tells Gerald the truth then what of his golden opportunity? And his Lordship wants his son, who he has not even seen up until now, by his side. Mrs. Arbuthnot tries hard by telling Gerald the scenario of what happened but omitting that she was the lady in question.
Gerald cannot see her point and veeres toward Illingworth's side until a disheveled Hester arrives claiming that Illingworth has attempted to 'have his wicked way' with her. Gerald is incensed and wants to kill the man who up till now was his new idol. “You can't Gerald, he's your father” finally confesses Mrs. Arbuthnot. Then begins the fight for Gerald between mother and father. Gerald, in his naivety, writes a letter to Illingworth demanding he marries his mother. The action really gets going in Act 2 in more ways than one.
Dominic Droomgoole's production has been going off and on for over two years now and with cast changes obviously. In this production, Roy Hudd crops up in the seemingly unimportant part of the Reverend Daubeny in the mode of old Miles Malleson. Hudd is an expert on British Music Hall and here performs three Entr'acte songs from the Victorian repertoire (Polly Perkins of Paddington Green / The Vicar and I will be there / The dark Girl of dressed in Blue). We get some nice work in particular from Isla Blair as Lady Caroline. Mark Meadows does not seem 'aristocratic' enough for Lord Illingworth but this actually works. Illingworth is not far removed from Lord Harry Wotten in ‘Dorian Gray’ - even going so far as speaking the same lines. Dromgoole draws it all out neatly and Jonathan Fensom’s set and costume design is equally impressive.
A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE runs until Sat Oct 5th (www.capitaltheatres.com)