It’s only as the first half draws to a close that there’s much sign of a plot in this 1893 social drama which kicks off a year-long season of Wilde’s work from Classic Spring, former Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole’s new venture.
Until then, veteran actresses Eleanor Bron (as Lady Caroline, mercilessly fussing over her husband) and Anne Reid (as muddle-headed hostess Lady Hunstanton) deliver Wilde’s bon mots with aplomb, as does Emma Fielding’s sensible Mrs Allonby in her exchanges with the caddish Lord Illingworth. The melodrama eventually kicks off with the late arrival of Eve Best’s eponymous, never-married “Mrs” Arbuthnot. Twenty years ago, he walked out on her when she had their child – and his behaviour towards women hasn’t improved over the intervening decades.
There’s good work from Harry Lister Smith as Gerald Arbuthnot who cannot understand why his mother desperately wants him to refuse the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity offered by the father he never knew, and Reid’s Hunstanton – getting progressively tipsier and with a decisive way with a tambourine – delivers period ditties in front of the curtain during set changes.
It’s hardly Wilde’s strongest play – but in its exposure of the double standards applied to the sexual behaviour of men and women – and specifically that of men in powerful positions – this revival is, unfortunately, only too timely.
Vaudeville, Strand WC2R 0NH
Tube: Charing Cross
Until 30th December 2017
£19.50 – £55.00 + premium seats