Some stories, it seems, never change. ‘There is so much unkind scandal in modern life’, declares Lady Stutfield in A Woman of No Importance. It’s as true today as it was when the play opened in 1892.
Dominic Dromgoole's year-long Oscar Wilde celebration feels particularly well-timed. The season of three plays kicks off with a stinging story of misogyny and gender double standards -- just as we are rocked by the all-too real scandal of a man exploiting his power over decades in the public eye.
At least Wilde’s scandals come with a generous helping of witticisms, brought to life with vivacity and verve in Dromgoole’s period-dress revival.
We follow a gathering of socialites and noble guests at Lady Hunstanton’s grand country home, crafted with authentic turn of the century details and ornate wallpaper.
At first it’s all gossip and flirtation. Puritanical young American Hester Worsley (Crystal Clarke) is wide-eyed at the barbed remarks and thorny morals of the English upper classes. Eleanor Bron is a gloriously acerbic Lady Caroline, barking instructions at her long-suffering husband between arch expressions of aristocratic entitlement. And Dominic Rowan is a suitably self-satisfied Lord Illingworth.
With each scene change, the audience are treated to a jolly musical number from the hostess, Lady Hunstanton (Anne Reid), and her accompany band of guests and servants.
Quips come thick and fast, creating an amusing but shallow class comedy. It's great fodder for tourists and youngsters studying the play, but more a vehicle for one-liners than fleshed out drama.
As the plot unfolds and we meet Mrs Arbuthnot (Eve Best), the titular Woman of No Importance, effervescence give way to a more discomfiting revelations.
With a second half that’s dominated by melodrama and moralising, Wilde's script is uneven and can feel increasingly flat and lopsided. Dromgoole negotiates this by leaning in to the feminist clout of the drama. Eve Best breaks through the heavy piety of the script to imbue the wronged woman with humanity, pathos and spirit. And the contemporary parallels are present clearly enough without any manipulations or deliberate echoes.
The result is still very much a play of two parts, but with enough life in both to carry you through.
As part of the Oscar Wilde season a series of writers, actors and all round Wilde experts will give pre-show talks ahead of selected evening performances of A Woman of No Importance. Our highlights include Merlin Holland, Wilde's grandson, discussing his famous relative's remarkable reputation and, most excitingly, font of all wisdom Stephen Fry will discuss 'playing Oscar'. Tickets for the talks are £10 each, and can be booked separately from the show.
Merlin Holland: The Remarkable Reputation of Oscar Wilde
Saturday 14 October, 6pm
Stephen Fry: Playing Oscar
Thursday 19 October, 6pm
Frank McGuinness: Wilde the European
Saturday 11 November, 6pm
Franny Moyle: A Woman of No Importance
Thursday 7 December, 6pm
|What||A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville Theatre review|
|Where||Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
06 Oct 17 – 30 Dec 17, 19:30
|Price||£25 - £58|
|Website||Click here for more details and to book|