WHEN you think of Oscar Wilde as a playwright you instantly smile – all those dazzling one-liners! But there is equal delight in his exquisite satirical portraits of stuffy aristocrats heading inexorably towards a time of change like the Titanic to the iceberg.
An Ideal Husband (1895) is a dramatic comedy which revolves around an act of corruption many years ago, early in the career of a rising young politician devotedly married to a woman of unshakeable virtue.
The title is clever because the identity of the “ideal husband” is less clear than you might imagine.
The drama is set mainly in the home of Sir Robert and Lady Gertrude Chiltern, and Sir Robert’s lively sister Mabel, where the dashing but frivolous Lord Goring and his serious politician father, Lord Caversham (a wonderfully crusty Anthony von Roretz), are regular and much-loved visitors.
Into this peaceful setting comes the gossipy Lady Markby (the always excellent Camilla Burgess, stepping in at short notice) with her friend, Mrs Cheveley, who is known to both Gertrude and Lord Goring.
Mrs Cheveley is a woman for whom the word ”unscrupulous” would be flattering and Tamsin Jacson captures the mercurial nature of the character brilliantly. She is flirtatious, witty, at times captivating but consistently calculating. No man or woman is safe from her wiles and you guiltily almost cheer the sheer chutzpah of her machinations!
George Goulding is similarly convincing as Lord Goring, one of Wilde’s clever characterisations – a witty and elegant man who makes a fetish of being trivial to mask the actual seriousness of his nature. You suspect that he and Mabel (Alice Hudson, in an excellent Studio Theatre debut) have a better chance of happiness than most of the married couples around them.
Adam Barge, a recent drama graduate making his first appearance with Studio Theatre, is impressive as the conflicted Chiltern, seeing his past catching up with him and his wife’s image of a blamelessly perfect man, about to be shattered. One of the high points of his performance is the moment when he loses his temper and shouts at Gertrude.
Gertrude Chiltern is easily the most difficult character in the play. We don’t relate to a woman of such strict morals that she could not forgive a misdemeanour – albeit a serious one – from many years ago. Emma Way, her face set in handsome stone, her back as straight as a ramrod, is the epitome of moral rectitude. You fear she will snap in half, and it takes all Lord Goring’s verbal dexterity to guide her through.
Director Jill Redston has hit just the right tone and pace, the languid Goring contrasting with the skittish Mabel, Gertrude with her unbending morals and the scheming Mrs Cheveley, the certainties of Lord Caversham and the anguish of Sir Robert. The period detail is excellent and overall this is another memorable evening at the Studio Theatre.
Salisbury audiences are lucky to see drama of this quality in the intimate setting of the little theatre in Ashley Road – pick up a leaflet for news of the £350,000 appeal to “Build a Better Theatre.”