Sunday, January 30, 2011

Getting Involved: A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde at the Greenwich Playhouse

The Galleon Theatre Company's successful revival of A Woman of No Importance owed much to the nature of the venue. The Greenwich Playhouse's 80- seat studio encouraged a much-needed intimacy and engagement with the issues of Oscar Wilde's darkest and, arguably, weakest play.

There's a wide quality gap between The Importance of Being Earnest and Wilde's other plays, and I was grateful that director Bruce Jamieson's light touch moved this along with appropriate briskness. The play suffers from the same muddled-logic deficiency as An Ideal Husband, (blogged Nov 10th, 2010, still showing at the Vaudeville theatre) where a dishonest politician hero is let off the hook.

Almost all the first half consists of aristos lounging around at Lady Hunstanton's country house, making witty remarks about marriage and society, punctuated by escorting one another into afternoon tea and dinner. The aphorisms are of high quality, including the famous description of fox-hunters as :'the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable'. Eleanor Wdowski's 1920's-feel costumes were interesting,and the actors excellent, but they didn't make make up for the play's static nature. Because the theme, the plight of an unmarried woman in high-class society, is altogether darker, the more amusing lines are not integrated with the action, as in Wilde's masterpiece.

The plot concerns a a middle aged diplomat called Lord Illingworth who has offered a secretarial post to a poor bank clerk, Gerald Arbuthnot. Just before the interval, when the young man's mother, Mrs Arbuthnot, arrives, Gerald is revealed to be Lord Illingworth's illegitimate son. His mother changed her name after being deserted by her dandified seducer. She makes it plain it would be very disloyal of Gerald to take up the job. The second half of the play depicts the various confrontations about what's to be done. Gerald falls in love with a pretty young house guest, the focus of a subplot, which further implicates the vile seducer and underscores the harshness of attitudes to women at the time.

The intimacy of the 80-seater studio allows a proximity that encourages involvement. I restrained myself from joining in the conversations of the first act, but couldn't help giving a sympathetic smile to the fallen woman, played with martyred dignity by Mary Lincoln. After all, at the height of her torment she was only three feet away and looking straight at me!

You can vote for The Offies, the best off-West-end production of the past year

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