An Ideal Husband

 

Oscar Wilde was well aware of the moral and social themes that were the staple ingredients of many of the dramas of his contemporaries and took artful and mischievous pleasure in using similar themes to turn received moralities on their heads.

This is one the more serpentine of what might be termed his anti-morality plays and it has to be conceded that it suffers from some dramatic creaks in its contrivance. But there is still a great deal of fun to be had from its epigrammatic irreverence for the social norms of its time and, strangely, under Alan Stanford's very measured direction, some of the fun is missing because the production takes more seriously than usual the pragmatic amorality of Wilde's subversive characters.

Risteard Cooper's Lord Arthur Goring is a mite too languid with the epigrams and Mrs Marchmont (Claudia Carroll) and Lady Basildon (Elizabeth Moynihan), who should set the tone and pace of the moral farce in the opening scene, are far too deliberately over the top for what is to follow.

A lighter, more casual, touch would have been more in the author's style and might have made some of the high verbal farce seem less laboured. But this may come right as more audiences interact with the piece, because the basic characterisations are sound.

Perhaps Jeananne Crowley's blackmailing of Mrs Cheveley could be more commandingly villainous, and she certainly needs to project herself more effectively, but it would be difficult to better the upright moral stupidity of Siobhan Miley's luminous Lady Chiltern, or the craven determination of Michael McElhatton's Sir Robert Chiltern to keep himself right in his wife's moral eye.

Alan Barry provides a perfectly blustering Lord Caversham as he despairs of his son's future in either life or marriage, Jade Yourell is perfectly dim and opportunistic as Mabel Chiltern and Helen Lindsay's Lady Markby is probably the soundest, most credible and most comfortable of all the performances, at home both with the production and with Wilde's intentions.

Philip Judge has a marvellous cameo mime as Lord Goring's butler taking his master through the ritual of selecting a new buttonhole for his lapel.

Jacqueline Kobler's costumes are perfectly suited to the play (although someone's decision to try to set it in 1920 has not benefited the piece) and Bruno Schwengl's settings are effectively frivolous and overtly theatrical rather than realistic, even if they take an unforgivable length of time to change between scenes. It all adds up to a good evening of theatre which may well become sharper and lighter and better with performance.

Runs until September 25th. To book phone 01-8744045