By: Oscar Wilde
Directed by: Peter Gill
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Monday 24th September 2007
This was a little disappointing. With Penelope Keith being the main attraction we were worried it might be a star vehicle, and although it wasn’t quite that bad, it did seem to have been let down a bit by the strange emphasis on Victorian cultural references. By this I mean that on several occasions I found myself thinking how topical a line would have been in Wilde’s day, probably hot off the press, but as I didn’t know the background, I couldn’t find it particularly funny. I had read the program notes, so some lines made more sense, but there were others that I was still clueless about.
Still, there was a lot to enjoy, mainly because Wilde’s writing is so good that no production can keep it down for long. I found the men a bit dull in the opening scene. Although they’d been well cast to resemble each other, they didn’t have much sparkle, and made up for it by being brisk, which doesn’t really help. The women, however, were splendid (and had better costumes, of course). This Gwendolyn will be a magnificent match for Lady Bracknell in a relatively short time, and Cecily was as conceited a romantic little bunny as one could wish to find in Hertfordshire. The parson was good and Miss Prism was excellent – I’ve never seen a better performance of the part. Penelope Keith was good enough as Lady Bracknell, although she was probably the worst for losing lines – delivering them in as inconspicuous a way as possible, just in case we enjoyed them.
With this strange direction, the play lost some of its sparkle, but rose above the difficulties many times. Even knowing what line is about to come doesn’t spoil it. I remain impressed with Wilde’s work, and dubious about the motives behind this production. However, we’re seeing another touring production later this year, so it will be interesting to compare notes.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me