Oscar Wilde's Sparkling Wit Is At Its Finest In An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville Theatre ★★★★☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 38 months ago

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Oscar Wilde's Sparkling Wit Is At Its Finest In An Ideal Husband An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville Theatre 4
Photo: Marc Brenner

It’s difficult to watch Oscar Wilde’s 1895 drawing-room comedy-drama An Ideal Husband without relating it to the author’s own, ultimately tragic life. Although the story is about a talented politician who is blackmailed for once selling a cabinet secret to help further his career, his fear of the past catching up with him leading to public disgrace seems prescient by Wilde. His own secret homosexual life was about to be exposed as he was arrested for ‘gross indecency’ during the play’s original run in the West End, when his name was taken off the posters.

An Ideal Husband strikes a contemporary chord with its themes of political corruption and hypocrisy, as well as stressing the importance of openness and forgiveness within marriage, in a rather creaky plot that veers between melodrama and farce and ends with a cop-out. But this is no dull, worthy morality drama: it sparkles with Wildean wit and paradoxical epigrams.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Jonathan Church’s solid production, benefiting from Simon Higlett’s elegant designs, plays it safe rather than trying to breathe new life into the play, but the result is thoroughly entertaining.

Nathaniel Parker plays the guilty politician laudably straight, with Sally Bretton fine as his rather priggish wife. Frances Barber vamps it up as the blackmailing femme fatale, while Susan Hampshire is a delightfully dotty aristocrat. And there is a scene-stealing double act with real-life father and son Edward and Freddie Fox playing the same relationship on stage, as crusty traditionalism clashes amusingly with dandified hedonism.

Photo: Marc Brenner

An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, WC2R 0NH. Tickets £19.50–£75, until 14 July 2018.

Last Updated 08 May 2018