A Woman Of No Importance Offers A Weak Start To A Wilde Ride

A Woman Of No Importance, Vaudeville Theatre ★★★☆☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 12 months ago

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A Woman Of No Importance Offers A Weak Start To A Wilde Ride A Woman Of No Importance, Vaudeville Theatre 3

Dominic Dromgoole has taken a year’s lease on the Vaudeville to present four plays by Oscar Wilde ‘respecting the proscenium setting for which they were written’.

Sadly he starts with A Woman of No Importance, the most Shavian of Wilde’s plays — in fact with a slight reshuffling, the same cast could play Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession in which the same issue of parentage is concealed from upwardly mobile Evie, as it is from Gerald Arbuthnot by his self-sacrificing mother, played by Eve Best, and roguish father (Dominic Rowan).

Best is a wonderful actress but cannot breathe fresh life into this ragbag of judgmental gossip and melodramatic plot, nor can anyone leaven the stilted lecturing of so much of the dialogue, particularly in the mouths of the token American — played pointedly by Crystal Clarke — or the token bluestocking, played gamely by Emma Fielding.

The staging is crude, too many characters are ranged in an angular line across the acting area, one man drags off a deckchair for no apparent reason, and in an important and intimate moment with Harry Lister Smith as her son Gerald, Best is obliged to sit beside him on a doorstep where they look like a ventriloquist act.

Three-quarters of the action takes place under the rheumy eye of Lady Hunstanton, played with increasing insobriety but also declining energy by Anne Reid.

Reid wins the audience’s hearts in the entr’acte diversions where, accompanied by a quartet of servant-musicians, she delivers three Victorian music hall songs. When she first appears it’s rather like being invited to supper at Buckingham Palace and finding the Queen Mother played the banjo.

But it’s a welcome relief from four acts of pontification and laboured aphorisms that land about as well as James Corden’s jokes about Harvey Weinstein. Read more.

A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville Theatre. Tickets from £20, until 30 December 2017.

Last Updated 20 October 2017