An Ideal Husband

As is often the case with Wilde, the sparkling fun of the text, with its mischievous social and sexist commentary, is only the froth on a strong brew of idealism

Vanessa Hyde: both upright and vulnerable as Lady Chiltern. Photograph: Darragh Kane

Vanessa Hyde: both upright and vulnerable as Lady Chiltern. Photograph: Darragh Kane

Sat, Jan 18, 2014, 17:04

An Ideal Husband
Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork
****


Although spiced with witticisms and memorable epigrams, An Ideal Husband is not a comedy. Its plot turns on scandal, personal integrity and social expectations, and its ostensible heroine is a woman of such righteousness that her letters suggest the Ten Commandments in every stroke of the pen.

Presented here in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Everyman Theatre, the play dates from 1895 when Oscar Wilde was nearing the end of his spectacular career.

As is often the case with Wilde, the sparkling fun of the text, with its mischievous social and sexist commentary, is only the froth on a strong brew of idealism and actuality. In this production, directed by Michael Twomey, Vanessa Hyde is both upright and vulnerable as Lady Chiltern. Her husband, Lord Chiltern, is revealed as far from ideal when the avaricious Mrs Cheveley brings evidence of earlier wrongdoing, which could ruin his marriage and his political career together. The philosophical core is found in the idle Lord Goring, a man who delights in paradox but whose rational understanding of the world provides the play’s central theme: that the quality of mercy must not be strained, especially by those taking the moral high ground.

It takes considerable skill, however, to exploit the substance of Wilde’s theatrical brilliance. The set, by Jim Queally, provides an atmosphere of elegance and graceful living. Mary Newman’s costumes are a delight.

What is missing is a sense of personal investment, here replaced by a stately distance between the speaker and the speech. The exceptions are Shirley McCarthy’s splendidly malicious Mrs Cheveley, Ian McGuirk’s Lord Goring, and Patrick O’Regan’s Lord Caversham, the three most comfortably at home on a stage glowing in Ray Casey’s lighting. Until January 25

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