Theatre Review: An Ideal Husband @ the Vaudeville Theatre

By Zoe Craig Last edited 87 months ago
Theatre Review: An Ideal Husband @ the Vaudeville Theatre

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An Ideal Husband plays at the Vaudeville Theatre until 19 February

Oscar Wilde's political play, An Ideal Husband, is a tricky mixture of drawing-room comedy and serious drama. On the one hand, you have typical Wildean epigrams on the difficulty of being brilliant at breakfast; on the other, heart-felt discourse on the nature of corruption and forgiveness.Lindsay Posner's new production at the Vaudeville Theatre attempts to paper over the cracks with a wonderful set, gorgeous costumes, and a suitably sparky cast.It makes for an ultimately entertaining, if slightly uneven show.Politician Sir Robert Chiltern and his wife (Alexander Hanson and Rachael Stirling, both in brilliantly measured performances) are a model couple, holding parties in their incredibly opulent home where women riddle prettily on the nature of society, the season and husbands. ("Ooh, that's a good one," you find yourself thinking of one of Wilde's apposite lines. "I'll remember that... oh, that's good too, I must remember that one..." and promptly forget them all.)Into this safe, staid existence swoops Mrs Cheveley (Samantha Bond) in a glorious peacock gown, wearing "far too much rouge, and not quite enough clothes." She starts blackmailing Robert Chiltern; she knows his present wealth and success are based on a past lie, that he sold a state secret. Never mind that since his slyly won start in life, he's behaved admirably, giving more money to charity than the price of that first misdemeanour, Mrs Chevely's evidence will ruin him. And not just his dazzling political career, his marriage too.Stephen Brimson Lewis' incredibly opulent set echoes the corrupt "gospel of gold" to which Sir Robert first fell foul, and displays just what this ideal husband stands to lose.And from this golden world shines an extremely well-pitched cast. Samantha Bond pronounces her devastating lines like a perfectly sounded bell, chiming discord so brightly, she's quite a disarming villainess. As the articulate dandy Lord Goring, concerned about the triviality of his buttonholes, Elliot Cowan is clearly enjoying himself. Cowan brings an endearing physicality to the role, preening and squirming with equal measure, and always hitting the right spot between comedy and reality.We'd like to have seen some of the witty socialising cut (we felt ourselves growing older as the ancient Lady Markby's gossiping went on, despite getting an inexplicable round of applause from the equally ancient audience) and the whole play toned down to an easier 120 minutes, rather than 2 hours 20.But once the second-half scheming takes over from the trivial first-half socialising, this play really starts to zing. Any Downton Abbeyphiles out there will love it.An Ideal Husband plays at the Vaudeville Theatre until 19 February. Call 0844 412 4663 for tickets, or visit www.vaudeville-theatre.co.uk for more information.

Last Updated 16 November 2010