Tuesday, 19 December 2017

'A Woman of No Importance' at the Vaudeville Theatre

A year of Oscar Wilde plays has started at the Vaudeville Theatre so it was time to jump in and get all Wildean. An additional draw was a cast headed up by Eve Best, Anne Reid and Eleanor Bron with the additional delight of William Gaunt having a small role as a local clergyman (I last saw him play John O'Gaunt, his namesake). With that cast and a Wilde play, what's not to like, especially when we were seated down the front of the stalls with perfect views?

The play opens at the country house of Lady Hunstanton who has invited a range of different people in the hops of having an interesting weekend. We have a young lady from America, various members of the aristocracy that seem to go from one country house to the next, a young clerk that Lady Hunstanton has taken an interest in, a politician and various others. A late Victorian play is, of course, full of morality and preaching and very so often you can clearly hear Wilde's Irish views spouted by the young American lady, a cypher for his own views on 'society' and the upper classes.

When Lord Illingworth offers the young clerk, Arbuthnot, a job as his secretary everyone is happy for him. It's a good step, after all. And his mother is invited to join the party for dinner. And that's where the tone changes since Mrs Arbuthnot ran away to live with Lord Illingworth when they were both young but he refused to marry her when she became pregnant. She doesn't want her son to have anything to do with the father who did nothing to help them all those years ago and we see her explain that Lord Illingworth is actually his father. That's where the twists and turns become ever more sharper.

It's a very enjoyable production, excellently delivered. Eve Best is a safe pair of hands as the 'woman of no importance', independent and strong whose only flaw seems to be her relationship with her selfish son. The son annoyed me - that's partly the writing of course, but mainly his stupid 'Ed Sheeran' hair style that was all over the place while everyone else was in character. It was a delight to see Eleanor Bron on stage who was imperious and, well, she played Eleanor Bron really well.

A very pleasant surprise was seeing Anne Reid on stage for the first time. Not only did we get a great performance but she came out in-between acts with some of the 'servants' to sing appropriate songs that helped the story move forward and she has a lovely singing voice. She was a friend of Barbara Cook so that's hardly surprising.

Once we got over young Arbuthnot's tantrums at the end of the play he finds a glove in his mother's drawing room, not knowing that Lord Illingworth had visited earlier and his mother had slapped his face with that glove. Her response to the question of whose glove it was was a very satisfying ending when she said it belonged to 'a man of no importance'. Take that!

Well done all, I really enjoyed this production and I'm looking forward to the next one now. Seeing a Wilde play every few months seems like a nice thing to do. Thank you Vaudeville for taking the plunge and committing to a Wilde year!

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