AN IDEAL HUSBAND
by Oscar Wilde.
Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 13 December 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 3, 11 Dec 2.30pm.
Audio-described 12 Dec, 13 Dec 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 3Dec 7.30pm.
Captioned 6 Dec 2.30pm.
Runs 3hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 November.
The dialogue, like the jewellery, sparkles as ever.
Chichester ends its, happily prolonged, season by doing something this splendid thrust stage has always done with supreme confidence – mounting an elaborate costume drama written with the scenic possibilities of a conventional proscenium arch stage in mind.
Not only that, but it’s at its happiest with actors who exploit the style appropriate to the proscenium arch, with its raised stage separated from the audience, when necessary, by a curtain. It mixes the semblance of real-life with artful contrivances of positioning and shaping of phrases to climax in a final fling at, or just before, a pronounced departure, made as far from the audience as possible.
It’s a clap-trap and it garners applause here for Edward Fox, whose movement and vocal strength might have limits these days that are to do with the actor as much as the character, but who still knows how to achieve maximum impact from stillness, impeccable timing and expressive focus – his softness towards others and sudden contrast in criticising his son Lord Goring are sharply comic, and a model of acting skill.
Likewise, Patricia Routledge, deservedly a Chichester favourite, whose character is mainly a way of bringing the social outsider, and malign plotter Mrs Cheveley to the ball. There’s no diminution in the actor’s carefully-calculated gear-changes for maximum effect in a speech. The final sentences of her major exit speech seem to set audience hands spontaneously clapping.
It’s fortunate they are here, for Rachel Kavanaugh’s production, while never less than competent, rarely penetrates Wilde’s smooth surface. Jamie Glover’s Lord Goring works well enough, though the light touch he brings to world-weary wit and moral sense alike avoids the playwright’s moral concern – society’s dirty linen lies under Wilde’s sugared society wit, as much as beneath the elegant frocks and formal evening-dress.
Which makes it a pity Mrs Chevely is played so lightly; revenge and greed that should rage simmer at best. And the usually fine Robert Bathurst risks the glimpses of a salvageable soul with moments of stagily expressed anguish.
Yet the plot is given room to develop, while the dialogue and frocks both reliably delight.
Mrs Marchmont: Hattie Ladbury.
Lady Basildon: Catherine Kanter.
Mason: Timothy Kightley.
The Earl of Caversham KG: Edward Fox.
Lady Chiltern: Laura Rogers.
Mabel Chiltern: Amy Morgan.
Lady Markby: Patricia Routledge.
Mrs Cheveley: Jemma Redgrave.
Vicomte de Nanjac/Phipps: Giles Taylor.
Sir Robert Chiltern: Robert Bathurst.
Lord Goring: Jamie Glover.
Mr Montford: Joseph Prowen.
James: Max Hutchinson.
Harold: Giles Coram.
Guests/Footmen: Janey Delow, Fiona Miller, Sue Silett, Rufus Cameron, Thomas Llewelyn-Evans.
Director: Rachel Kavanaugh.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Howard Harrison.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Music: Catherine Jayes.
Associate director: Psyche Stott.