I happen to be particularly fond of Wilde's AN IDEAL HUSBAND and A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE, both of which hold more interest for me than his more often revived THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Fortunately Wilde is often revived in London though, oddly, seldom at the National Theatre which doesn't seem very interested in one of England's greates playwrights.
Here's a revival that did what a revival should do -- give enormous pleasure to those seeing the fine play for the first time and shedding new light on the work for those familiar with the play. Lindsay Posner's production managed to make the social comedy and well made play melodrama all of a piece. There's a tendency in Wilde revivals for characters to pose and to preen at their witticisms. All the actors in this production managed to act and react like human beings. The center of the production was Elliot Cowan's Lord Goring, the brilliantly witty man about town. Cowan's Goring showed both the pose and the man under the pose who was painfully aware of his own inadequacies. He was throughout a great listener as well as a witty performer. Rachel Stirling's Lady Chiltern was not just a priggish young woman, but an intelligent, passionate one. Samantha Bond's villainous Mrs. Cheveley was a woman who wanted power in a man's world and kenw the price she paid for not playing by the rules. The always reliable Alexander Hanson captured Chiltern's ambition and his devotion to his wife.
Yes, the sets and costumes were gorgeous as they should be in a Wilde revival, but the production also reminded all of us in the audience that Wilde's comments on politics and human frailties are still pertinent even if his views on gender were shall we say unenlightened. I also felt in this production the presence of Wilde speaking through his characters his own awareness of the dangerous position in which he placed himself.
A great way to begin a new year of theatergoing.
AN IDEAL HUSBAND. Vaudeville Theatre. January 1, 2011