A Less Than Ideal Performance

Posted on January 18th, 2011 by

By Kenton Watson

On Tuesday night, we all went to see a performance of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre. The Vaudeville is a West End theatre, and so the group had only a short ride on the tube to the Charing Cross stop, which is three stops away from our starting point at Goodge Street. After the tube ride, there was only a leisurely walk to the theatre itself, and upon reaching the venue, it seemed to bea fairly small, but elegant space

The age range of the audience seemed skewed slightly older than other audiences we had encountered so far. The one notable exception to this was a young couple who seemed much more inspired by each other’s saliva than the play. The experience of having the play interrupted occasionally by smacking noises was a distraction I had not experienced at a theatrical performance until then—and not one I particularly wish to repeat. Interestingly, the audience was not very large. Certainly the theater was not large, but seemingly the reason we had received our nicer seats is because the theatre only sold enough tickets to fill the first two levels of the theatre.

The show itself was a comedy, taking place over a period of 24 hours, and focusing primarily around  Lord and Lady Robert Chiltern, two important members of London society, during the Regency period. The conflict arises when a certain Mrs. Cheveley suddenly arrives upon the glamorous and exclusive scene of London high society, and immediately begins causing turmoil, which soon throws the lives of the Chilterns and others into rather humorous chaos. She blackmails the supposedly morally spotless Lord Chiltern over a scandal earlier in his political career, which he is desperate to hide from his wife, who has placed him on an unrealistic moral pedestal.

My own impression of the show was that it seemed unfortunately lackluster. Though the bright gold paint of the set clearly represented a well thought out representation of the gaudy opulence of the Regency era, most of the construction came off as almost distractingly cheap. And though Wilde’s script is a brilliant example of snappy, witty dialogue, many of the characters deliveries seemed stiff and awkward. Frequently the stiffness was quite literal, as both of the lead performers, as well as many of the other actors and actresses in the show would deliver their lines with arms at their sides, using only their head for expression. This had the sad effect of making many of the performances just a little bit flat.

There were however a few characters who made the show at least somewhat worth sitting through. The role of Lord Goring, a good friend of Lord Chiltern, was magnificently performed, and was expressive and humorous without standing out uncomfortably. In addition, the performers who played Lord Caversham (Lord Goring’s father), and Miss Mabel Chiltern (Lord Chiltern’s sister) were delightfully hilarious, and were able to deliver Wilde’s quirky lines pitch perfectly. Between Lord Goring’s exaggerated expressiveness, Lord Caversham’s doddering obsession over his son’s marital plans, and Mabel’s tittering and airy banter, there was certainly a fair share of laughs to be had. Thus, despite my not quite minor complaints, An Ideal Husband was still an enjoyable night out.


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