An Ideal Husband, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review with pictures
There was a buzz of conversation last night at Market Drayton Festival Centre about the man who wrote 'there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.'
Many of us in the audience had already seen two hugely enjoyable Oscar Wilde social comedies, streamed live from London’s Vaudeville Theatre, and here we were for the third in the series, An Ideal Husband.
Its author was arrested for ‘gross indecency’ during the first production of the play in 1895, and was sentenced to two years in prison doing hard labour.
The current production makes the most of Wilde’s wit, and portrays the moral challenges created by the plot well while evoking human sympathy.
The show is about Sir Robert Chiltern who has built his life on a lie after tipping off a stockbroker with classified government information. He carves out a successful career in politics and earns a reputation for moral probity – and a wife who worships him for it.
Enter the delightfully villainous Mrs Cheveley, who is ready to wreck Robert's career and marriage with evidence from the past unless she gets what she wants.
The plot involved plenty of melodramatic devices – a dropped brooch, a stolen letter, and the wrong lady sequestered in the drawing room - but the outstanding cast injected plenty of comical moments into the show, while never undermining serious matters or diminishing the emotional impact.
Nathaniel Parker’s Sir Robert Chiltern earned, lost, and regained the audience's sympathy throughout the show. His 'why can’t you women love us, faults and all' speech was an undoubtedly powerful moment.
Sally Bretton played the role of the wife, who had put him on her moral pedestal, and proves suitably horrified once he has fallen, but is also meltingly sympathetic when put on the spot herself.
Above all, Freddie Fox was a delight to watch every moment he was on stage as Lord Goring. He exaggerated his lines and movements as a dandy without ever threatening the audience's conviction that he was the perceptive charmer who would ultimately turn everything around.
There was an added poignancy in numerous scenes between Goring and his father, the Earl of Caversham. Freddy played against his real-life father Edward Fox with cheekily false disdain that worked remarkably well.
One of the biggest laughs went to Susan Hampshire, who as Lady Markby 'talks more and says less than any other person'.
After a barnstorming harangue on social mores she left to console a friend: 'Her daughter has become engaged to a curate in Shropshire – such a tragedy.'
By John Hargreaves