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 The Theatreguide.London Review

An Ideal Husband
Vaudeville Theatre      Autumn 2010 

Lindsay Posner's revival of this Oscar Wilde classic captures more of the play more successfully than any previous production I've seen, offering entertainment on more levels than a season of lesser plays might.

Wilde's play is part serious drama, part lush melodrama, part brittle wit comedy, part French farce. Most directors take the easy route, emphasising the comedy and treating the serious plot as a necessary evil to be rushed through as quickly as possible.

But Posner and his strong cast play the drama and melodrama at full force, making them so theatrically compelling that the comedy and farce almost - almost -seem like tacked-on afterthoughts.

A rich and rising politician is blackmailed over a financial indiscretion of his past, a crisis intensified by the fact that his wife is rectitude personified and surely could not love him if she learned of his imperfection. 

Hovering around the edges is a Wildean dandy tossing off epigrams but also helping his friend out of his difficulty while also getting into a couple of farcical situations of his own.

Nominal star of the show is Samantha Bond as the blackmailer but, as powerful and alluring an actress as she is, I found her performance a little too overtly and single-mindedly villainous, without the charm and sensuality that would make her character dangerously attractive and thus far more dangerous.

The real acting honours go to Rachael Stirling as the stiff-backed wife, who makes her scenes of outraged rectitude and unwavering moral certainty the most powerful of the evening.

This may be awfully close to soap opera stuff, but Stirling and director Posner play it as if it were Shakespeare, and it works - total commitment to the purple passions and purple prose sucks us right into the reality of the play in a way the mere lip service or ironic distancing of other productions can't.

Stirling is so strong - and yes, you cannot help but see and hear her mother in every moment and particularly in the emotional power of her acting - that she all but wipes Alexander Hanson as her husband off the stage. Buffeted about as he is by both Samantha Bond's and Rachael Stirling's characters, Hanson's politician can hardly help coming across as a bit of a wimp, certainly one who never really has control over his own fate.

Elliot Cowan as the dandy suffers a little from the unexpected power of the serious plot, since his character is not given free rein to steal the show with his insouciance and throwaway wit as is frequently the case, but has to fight for our attention.

He does so successfully, though you can sometimes see the actor working at being funny, which of course weakens the fun.

Caroline Blakiston does effortlessly steal one scene as a society dowager commenting with bemused wit on the world around her, Charles Kay is droll as a disapproving-of-just-about-everything elder, and Fiona Button is charming as the level-headed girl who is exactly who the dandy should marry.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  An Ideal Husband - Vaudeville Theatre 2010
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