A Woman of No Importance
| By Harrison Fuller
Wilde’s melodrama A Woman of No Importance is receiving a London revival (the first in 20 years or so the programme notes tells me) and is the first instalment of Dominic Dromgoole’s yearlong Wilde Season. Still to come are Lady Windermere’s Fan directed by Kathy Burke and The Importance of Being Earnest that was last seen at the Vaudeville Theatre two years ago with David Suchet starring as Lady Bracknell.
If you don’t know the play, you will know the quotes. It is packed full of some of Wilde’s best witticisms. Recognisably Wilde, the play features lines like, ‘Duty is what one expects from others, it is not what one does oneself.’ Constantly lampooning the upper classes, Wilde has immense fun with his characters. Lady Hunstanton, played delightfully by Anne Reid, is forgetful and confused. Reid plays the hostess with charm, enthralling the audience with songs to cover scene changes. Lady Caroline and Sir John, played by Eleanor Bron and Sam Cox respectively, are superb as henpecked and frustrated yet insecure husband and wife. They provide some of the many laughs of the evening.
The whole arrangement of the evening is like stepping back in time. The premise of the season at the Vaudeville is to present Wilde’s plays on a stage similar to the stages they were written for. And it works. It is delightful to be immersed in the cosy, warm glow of Victorian melodrama, a play about class and manners that is as knowing as it is entertaining.
It has to be said that a few points in the play don’t sit too well with a modern audience. For example Lord Illingworth’s desire to kiss Miss Worsley because ‘he can’t help himself’ or without her permission, particularly in light of the recent stories from Hollywood, are a little uncomfortable. And while the original intention is to laugh at such behaviour, in today’s climate it is difficult to condone.
Wilde is a favourite writer and the cast and creative team have done justice to his work. I look forward to seeing the rest of the season.