Wilde at heart

PUBLISHED: 11:58 06 November 2008 | UPDATED: 17:16 16 August 2010

Bill Kenwright production of

Bill Kenwright production of

OSCAR Wilde s acerbic wit was much to the fore in the Churchill Theatre s production of An Ideal Husband, his 1895 drama about blackmail and political skulduggery.

OSCAR Wilde's acerbic wit was much to the fore in the Churchill Theatre's production of An Ideal Husband, his 1895 drama about blackmail and political skulduggery.

The plot has many complicated twists, but chiefly revolves around the manipulative Mrs Cheveley (Kate O'Mara) blackmailing Sir Robert Chiltern (Paul Aves, understudying for Michael Praed) into supporting a fraudulent canal project.

Sir Robert's wife Lady Chiltern (Carol Royle) insists he reneges on his newly-made promise - which, heavy-heartedly, he agrees to, knowing full well it will leave him open to Mrs Cheveley's iniquitous intentions.

Consisting of four acts taking place over 36 hours, the play is a long one and requires a fair amount of concentration to keep up with the ins and outs of its convoluted plot. Unfortunately, because of the geriatric nature of the principle players, it lacked the kind of energy and pace needed to maintain interest over its two-and-a-half hour running time.

Tony Britton seemed unsure of his lines (forgivable at 84), while Fenella Fielding, 76, took her time with Lady Markby's comic speech in Act 2, so much so that each line became more of a hurdle to jump rather than a joke to savour.

Kate O'Mara, a veritable spring chicken at just 69, was certainly a dominating stage presence, but occasionally her diction would falter in the more explanation-heavy passages.

As the loyal but disillusioned wife, Carol Royle was excellent, while Paul Aves brought real depth and humility to the compromised politician at the heart of the play - he more than made up for the absence of Michael Praed.

Spouting such delightful aphorisms as: "To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance", Robert Duncan made a very likeable Lord Goring (Oscar Wilde in all but name).

Although his ever more flamboyant buttonholes were entirely appropriate, I couldn't understand why he chose to wear a dead cat on his head.

The enormous set by Carl Toms dwarfed the actors, and there were audible gasps at one point as a seemingly freestanding wall threatened to topple onto the cast.

But they survived.

* The next production at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, adapted by Robin Kingsland, from 4-8 November. Tickets: 0870 060 6620.

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