An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville Theatre, London’s West End, November 2010

This witty and cleverly constructed play by Oscar Wilde was beautifully performed by the entire cast. So beautifully in fact that I never had a serious doubt it would all work out well in the end. Perhaps I should have done, because the charmingly dishonest Mrs. Cheveley, brilliantly played by Samantha Bond, exuded an air of inevitable success even though she ends up with nothing and loses the valuable brooch she once stole.

Mrs. Cheveley is poles apart from her old school ‘friend’ Lady Chiltern, who is puffed up with pride at having an ideal husband, a situation that allows her to sail forth clothed in good deeds and moral inflexibility. Unfortunately, the husband Sir Robert Chiltern has a nasty skeleton in his cupboard, well exhibited by a letter that has recently come into Mrs. Cheveley’s possession. This is a play about blackmail, political opportunism and questions of honour, and as such is as fitting to the present time as it was to the late nineteenth century in which it was written.

Rachael Stirling gave a beautiful portrayal of Lady Chiltern, who is pulled up short at the end when her husband, very convincingly played by Robert Hanson, refuses to give his sister’s hand to the shrewd but apparently foppish Lord Goring. Now it is he who shows moral inflexibility, and his wife feels obliged to explain that things are not entirely as he thought. Elliot Cowan played the amusing dandy Lord Goring with witty self-deprecation, a remarkable change from the Macbeth I last saw him perform at the Globe this summer. His wonderful lines, such as “I love talking about nothing, father. It’s the only thing I know anything about” were delivered with superb nonchalance, and his body language was wonderfully expressive. Charles Kay as his father showed ample disdain and concern in a suitably restrained way, and Caroline Blakiston as Lady Markby almost stole the scene at one point with her fine monologue.

The whole cast worked superbly together, and this production by Lindsay Posner turns Wilde’s 1895 drama into something absolutely topical, as did his excellent staging of Roberto Devereux at Opera Holland Park in summer 2009. Lighting by Peter Mumford showed Stephen Brimson Lewis’s designs to perfection, and what fine designs they are, with immensely tall rooms expensively decorated. For a delightful evening’s entertainment in these cold days with protests, strikes and economic gloom, you cannot do better. Performances continue until February 26th — for more details click here.

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