A sumptuous opening set and heavily starched costumes à la mode did little to compensate for the initial disappointment in An Ideal Husband’s opening night at the King’s. This should have been a performance of magnificent dimensions.
The playwright is Wilde, the adaptation has been executed by Peter Hall and Kate O’Mara reprieves the role of the infamous and devilish Mrs Cheveley. However on this first performance O’Mara was robbed of her sparring partner Michael Praed and instead the role of Sir Robert Chiltern had to be filled by an able understudy.
So from behind the intimidating form of a gargantuan Victorian soverign coin which reinforces the “gospel of gold” driving Wilde’s masterpiece, the comedy of manners unfolds.
Opening at an evening party hosted by Sir Robert Chiltern, Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs and his charming and highly-respected wife the action commences with snap-shots of Victorian high society where everyone talks in paradoxes and no-one says what they mean.
Into this world steps the straight-talking manipulative Mrs Cheveley, a former classmate of Lady Chiltern who has spent the last decade abroad in the company of a certain Baron Arnheim. Claiming a private audience with Sir Robert she quickly reveals that she holds the key to a major secret from his past which could undo him in the eyes of society and his high-principled wife alike.
Despairing, Chiltern throws himself on the merciful council of his greatest friend, dandy and societal rogue Lord Goring in the hope of escaping public scandal and domestic hell but as with all Wildean works confusion and dramatic irony reign supreme.
Though furnished with a word-perfect text beautifully adapted, the performance frustrated throughout the first two acts. Lines that display the famous Wildean wit when delivered with speed and alacrity seemed laboured as the cast drew them out to paint a cliched and over-stipulated portrait of London aristocracy.
However the action picked up in the second half with Robert Duncan mastering events especially well in the role of Lord Goring. And while this performance perhaps failed to live up to its high credentials it nevertheless delivered much of the mischeivious malice and skilled social commentary always to be expected from Oscar Wilde.
Review by Katie Smyth
Until Saturday at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre