An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre
Morality, love, society prejudices, good taste, politics, corruption: Oscar Wilde used all the best elements to create one of his most sophisticated and enjoyable comedies. Classic Spring Theatre Company wonderfully brings to the stage an exquisite and refreshing production for An Ideal Husband.
Lord Chiltern (Nathaniel Parker) is the ideal husband: he is honourable, a respectable politician, wealthy and charitable. But a sin from his youth, the corrupt origin of all his fortune, comes back to haunt him in the shape of Mrs Cheveley (Frances Barber). Blackmailed, the honest man is confronted with a hard choice: to face public disgrace, or to endorse a fraudulent scheme. At stake is also the adoring love of his wife (Sally Bretton), who has made of him a spotless model of integrity. His only trustworthy confessor is the elegant Lord Goring (Freddie Fox).
The production starts in a slightly low-key, the stage is set with lavish ornaments and rich costumes. The care in the detail creates an opulent setting and helps to convey the admirable status of the household. With the initial character interactions spread across different scenes, the focus is then gradually restricted to the main protagonists, with the third act rising to an extremely enjoyable sequence of one-to-one dialogues, pivoting around Wilde’s charming personification of Lord Goring. In him, the playwright sketches a pleasing dandy with all-frivolous concerns, yet who is the loftiest of them all.
Freddie Fox and Edward Fox undeniably steal the show with their superlative arguments as father and son. Both lively and witty, together they recreate a delightfully entertaining connection in their familiar relationship between the senile, sage old man and the ebullient, liberal bachelor. Parker and Barber are simply brilliant in their extremely opposite roles.
Samuel Martin’s violin intervals are elegant expedients for the changing of scenes, which fit nicely within the whole proscenium arch framing. Jonathan Church satisfyingly directs Oscar Wilde’s hits and lashes against society and morality. Inescapable contradictions creep up on the protagonists, becoming stone-heavy burdens, and are irreconcilable with the sturdy, non-corrupt façade they present to the world. From the hint of a necessary “scheme of immigration” in order to free the overcrowded opera theatre, to the complex reality of making compromises, Wilde’s critical remarks ring true in the minds of today’s audience, still as perfectly valid as they were when the play was first performed.
Photo: Mark Brenner
An Ideal Husband is at the Vaudeville Theatre from 20th April until 14th July 2018. Book your tickets here.