Tuesday, 29 May 2018

REVIEW: An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre

Jonathan Church has produced this wonderful Oscar Wilde play in Salisbury and at Chichester and now directs it as part of the Oscar Wilde season at the Vaudeville. It is easy to see why he returns to this incredibly witty melodrama about truth, morality, love and politics as although it was written in 1895, it still remains fresh, relevant and highly entertaining. In the first two acts Wilde's witty one liners rattle across the footlights in a machine gun rapid fire so that it is sometimes hard to catch and digest them all. Church brings his cast downstage to fire these lines out with precision and delight and we easily set aside his age and colour blind casting. In the third act, it is a hilarious farce which is elegantly resolved in Act 4. 

The casting of Edward Fox as the Earl of Caversham together with his actual son, Freddie Fox as his son Viscount Goring provides an extra delightful piquancy to many of the lines as he describes him as "a good for nothing son " and that he never "knows when you are serious or not" and Goring later retorts "Fathers should be seen and not heard ". Freddie Fox is magnificent as the pleasure seeking narcissist who turns out to be a smarter intermediary amongst the aristocratic society in which he mixes. Dressed to look like Oscar Wilde himself Goring is challenged by his father if he is married yet and quips " ask me again half an hour" and then secures the hand of Faith Omole's Miss Mabel Chiltern, although we are never sure whether this is for convenience or love and he certainly does not appear to be an ideal husband. Indeed as he himself says “I usually say what I really think. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood". 

Frances Barber is deliciously malevolent as Mrs Cheveley trying to manipulate matters to her advantage, although at times the extravagant heavy gown she wears does seem to get the better of her. Susan Hampshire provides support as Lady Markby who introduces Mrs Cheveley to the Chiltern household.

Nathanial Parker as Sir Robert is the ideal husband married to Sally Bretton (familiar to us as Lee Mack's wife in “Not going out”) as Lady Chiltern but torn between his political ambition and devotion to his wife. Mrs Cheveley says "men can be analysed but women are to be adored" and Sir Robert adores his wife. But Goring reminds us that "only people who look dull go to the House of Commons and only those who are dull succeed" which seem even truer 100 years on! 

The whole production is staged by Simon Higlett within a gilded cage that
doubles as the various rooms in the Chilton's house and Goring's bohemian apartment. It looks sumptuous and provides an elegant setting for the high society that Oscar Wilde places his arguments in. 

This is a wonderful production of one of the wittiest and best written of Oscar Wilde's plays and his sharp wit is a joy and his sentiments seem fresh and relevant today. 

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls row J | Price of Ticket: £55
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