Whatsonstage Review: A Woman of No Importance

Venue: Greenwich Playhouse
Date Reviewed: 17 December 2010

In yet another Wilde revival, Oscar satirises a batch of upper-class personalities as they swap aperçus on the subjects of marriage, the differences between men and women, and the poor, and eventually arrives at the meat of the piece when he reveals an unmarried mother (quelle horreur) is secretly in their midst. Galleon Theatre Company, based at the misleadingly named Playhouse (it is tiny), have chosen to update the play to the 1950’s.

This production has a classy feel, the acting is largely excellent, and the difficult space is managed well by director Bruce Jamieson. The play is not Wilde’s finest: it is always enjoyable to feast on a portion of his wit, but here I am over-stuffed, and want more seriousness around the sexual politics in the piece, exemplified by the fallen woman, Rachel Arbuthnot (a nicely-tortured Mary Lincoln), being forced to spend years in the wilderness, whilst the stock of the dastardly father of her child, Lord Illingworth (smoothly played by Kevin Marchant) has only risen. Nevertheless, Wilde’s being a feminist at all makes him special, for his era and his class, and there are many chortles to be had at his lacerations of hopeless men (and bitchy women).

The only clear effect of giving the play a 50’s setting is that we can enjoy some nice fashion of the period. Otherwise, the language and social types felt very much of their time, and if I half-closed my eyes, I still saw bustles and frock-coats.


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