Thursday 3 July 2014

An Ideal Husband @ The Tabard Theatre

One of Oscar Wilde's most performed dramas, An Ideal Husband is utterly typical of his style, with the usual tropes of sexual tension, upper class hedonism and a male protagonist with a dark secret.  The parallels to Wilde's own life are obvious (the play's debut run in 1895 was cut short due to his arrest), but what's striking is its palpable relevance to a contemporary audience.

It's this that director David Phipps Davis has emphasised in this production, transferring the setting to modern day.  The political corruption at the heart of the drama could parallel anything from the expenses scandal to the Leveson inquiry.  Wilde's script has been subtly adapted here, the removal of period references, overt sexism and some poetical language leaving a sleek modern script to work with.

In all other aspects, though, this is a lucid if straightforward production of Wilde's comedy of manners, the simplistic set design from Leah Sams ensuring our attention is firmly on the actors.

Phipps Davis is clearly seeking to emphasise the comic elements of the piece, but whilst the satire is far from naturalism, at times the over-acting edges on caricature and pantomime.  Alongside a terrible jazz soundtrack - meant to evoke a sophisticated dinner party - that somewhat undermines the drama, the production feels more like a live sit com than a play; all that's missing is the canned laughter.

Individually there are some great performances.  Eileen Battye is given all the best cutting one-liners as Lady Markby, somewhat stealing the show despite minimal stage time.  Jill Rutland is suitably seductive as Laura Cheveley, with an air of Keira Knightley about her overall performance.  Jamie Thompson charms as the foppish Arthur Goring and Doug Cooper's Robert Chiltern is reminiscent of Blair, Cameron or any number of politicians currently in office.

This thoroughly contemporary production of An Ideal Husband is perfectly watchable and entertaining, but as a modern retelling it's missing the erotic charge and subtle autobiographical depth so integral to Wilde's work.


Watch: An Ideal Husband runs at the Tabard Theatre until 19th July.